Islamic Jihad Threatens Response After Israeli Strike on Gaza Tunnel Leaves Commander Dead

Hamas leader in Gaza tells Haaretz: Egypt working to prevent escalation ■ The Gaza terrorist organization says it is 'weighing its options' after eight killed ■ Israel not interested in escalation, army says

A Palestinian militant stands guard at a hospital in central Gaza Strip October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A Palestinian militant stands guard at a hospital in central Gaza Strip October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

Islamic Jihad responded to Israel's strike on a Gaza tunnel which left eight people dead in Gaza, saying Monday they are "weighing their options" with regard to the "Zionist terrorist government" and that they "will not lose their right to react" after one of their commanders and his deputy were killed.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said it was not interested in an escalation and that the Palestinians were not killed intentionally by the IDF, but rather from smoke inhalation when they tried to enter the tunnel to recuse those stranded inside.

Purported image of Arafat Abu Mourshid, Islamic Jihad field commander  reportedly killed in Israeli strike on a Gaza terror tunnel
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>>Israel's strike on Gaza attack tunnel could break fragile Palestinian status quo | Analysis

A senior Hamas official who spoke to Haaretz said that Egypt is working to prevent escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. According to the official, Egypt fears renewed fighting would destroy the unity agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah to form a Palestinian unity government.

People carry the body of a Palestinian who was killed near the border between Israel and central Gaza Strip October 30, 2017.  REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

Hamas said that Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people only increases their determination to continue with the reconciliation process while also continuing fighting against the occupation.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called an emergency meeting with faction leaders in Gaza, in order to coordinate a united stance and response following the tunnel attack.

Eight were killed and another 13 were wounded in Monday's attack on a tunnel in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers patrol close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

Among those killed was Masbah Ashbir, 30, of Hamas, who was a field commander in Khan Yunis. Arafat Abu Mourshid, a commander of the Al-Quds Brigade, the military arm of central Gaza's Islamic Jihad was also killed, as was Hassan Abu Hasnin, his deputy. The other two killed were identified as Omar Nasser Al-Felit, aged 27, and Ahmad Khalil Armana, aged 25.

The Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza said that Israel's attack "was a crime and resistance forces reserve the right to use any means necessary to respond."

The Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, added that the blood of those killed was not spilled in vain, and that Israel will be held responsible for its attack. The group added that Israel is trying to change the rules of the game, which will lead them to failure.

Israel not interested in escalation

On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces bombed an attack tunnel that had been dug from the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory, close to Kibbutz Kissufim. Iron Dome missile defense systems were deployed in southern Israel ahead of the operation.

The IDF said the tunnel, which was still under construction, reached Israeli territory near the Gaza border fence, across from the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis. It was discovered in an area where the barrier intended to stop the building of such tunnels had not yet been constructed. Security forces have been working on the barrier for the last few months.

IDF Spokesman Ronen Manelis told reporters that the tunnel was a "gross violation of Israeli sovereignty" that required a military response.

He added that the army was aware of the route of the tunnel and believed that it did not pose any danger. Using technological means, the IDF spotted the tunnel the moment underground excavations began on the Israeli side of the border.

After deliberations, it was decided to destroy it in order to prevent a hazard, Manelis said.

Most of the Palestinian fatalities were killed while trying to carry out a rescue inside the tunnel and were not killed intentionally by the IDF, Manelis added. He denied that Israel had used chemical weapons.

“It was a controlled explosion within Israeli territory,” he added.

The Palestinians died from smoke inhalation, fumes from explosives and the tunnel collapse, he said. “Most of the casualties were on the Palestinian side” of the border,” he added.

Manelis said that the IDF holds Hamas responsible for any activity in the Gaza Strip.

The tunnel belonged to Islamic Jihad, according to an IDF source. However, given that the fatalities included Hamas members, this indicates that Hamas was aware of the tunnel.

Manelis stressed that Israel is not seeking an escalation and has no interest in military conflict in Gaza.