At least seven Palestinians were killed, and 12 others were wounded after Israeli forces blew up an underground tunnel between the southern Gaza Strip and Israel on Monday, according to Palestinian and Israeli sources.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health officially declared the death of seven Palestinians, all fighters in the armed wings of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements in Gaza.
The killed fighters were identified as Hussam Abdullah al-Sumairi, 32, Muhammad Marwan Al-Agha, 22, Ahmad Khalil Abu Armaneh, 25, Omar Nassar al-Falit, 27, Hassan Aaba Hassanein, Mesbah Fayek Shbeir, and Arafat Abu Morshed.
— Days of Palestine (@DaysofPalestine) October 30, 2017
The Palestinian Civil Defense forces told Ma’an that rescue teams had saved a number of fighters who were trapped in the tunnel after the explosion, while the ministry of health said at the time that the number of wounded was around 12.
Following the explosion, Israeli media reported that the Israeli army staged a “controlled detonation” in the area around the Gaza Strip, saying the activity was pre-planned.
Despite killing seven and wounding more than a dozen others, the Israeli army spokesperson reportedly said that the army had “no intention of escalating matters,” and that the tunnel had yet to become operational when forces blew it up, according to Ynet news.
— bünyamin kasap (@falanfilanvs) June 18, 2017
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that the tunnel “was a blatant violation of (Israeli) sovereignty and all acceptable rules between societies, countries and organizations that respect themselves.” He added that the recently built tunnel “proves that despite the Palestinian reconciliation, the Gaza Strip remains a kingdom of terrorism. As far as we’re concerned, the responsibility (for the tunnel) is without a doubt that of Hamas, which rules Gaza.”
— Shehab News (@ShehabAgencyEn) October 31, 2017
Meanwhile, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, released a statement following the attack, saying that “the blood of the martyrs would not be wasted, and that the Israeli occupation bears responsibility for the consequences of this aggressive escalation.”
Israeli officials have accused Hamas of “preparing” for another war with Israel and have threatened retaliatory measures against the Gaza Strip as a whole. However, despite Hamas’ inflammatory rhetoric against Israel, the movement has not officially claimed responsibility for any military action from Gaza against Israel since the 2014 war.
While the tunnels in Gaza are used by Hamas as a source of tax revenue and inflow of weapons, they also supply highly demanded necessities for Gazans – who have been trapped under Israeli siege for a decade – including food, medicine, and much-needed infrastructure materials.
The majority of the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to the continuation of the military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border.
The destruction from three Israeli offensives since 2008, including damage to the enclave’s water, sanitation, energy, and medical facilities, coupled with slow reconstruction due to the blockade, led the UN to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
(Ma’an, PC, Social Media)