A Hamas militant was killed in a tunnel collapse east of the city of Gaza in the Gaza Strip on Monday, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported, the twelfth operative of the group known have died in an incident of the kind in the past two months.
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The militant was identified as Abed al-Salem Al-Batanigi, 36. According to Hamas, the militant was engaged in an operational mission when he was killed. The cause of the collapse was unclear.
Earlier in March, a Hamas member was killed when a tunnel he was digging in the Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis collapsed, according to the Hamas military wing the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Three Hamas operatives, one of them a field commander, were reported dead in two collapses in early February and seven died in late January.
Hamas is currently investing heavily in the reconstruction of its military capabilities including the rebuilding of destroyed tunnels and the stock-piling of rockets, according to Israeli assessments.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot recently called the Hamas tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel the IDF's top priority, and said that the army is "making great efforts, most of them hidden from the public eye," to deal with them.
"We have the most advanced capabilities in the world but it’s still a big challenge. We don’t let the fact that it’s quiet in the south deceive us,” Eisenkot said at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Israeli military officials believe that there is a likelihood of another military conflict against Hamas in Gaza – a conflict that could occur as the result of Israeli miscalculation or purposeful instigation by Hamas officials attempting to radically change the situation in Gaza.
Military assessments suggest that the number of tunnels in Gaza is now close to what it was prior to Operation Protective Edge in 2014, during which Israeli troops uncovered and destroyed 32 such structures.