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The IDF has made destroying these passageways a top priority — releasing this video showing soldiers setting off explosives at the entrances.
For its part, Hamas released its own video to various media outlets showing its fighters moving through the tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip. (Via ITN)
On Saturday, militants dressed in Israeli army uniforms sneaked across the border and killed two Israeli soldiers, which as The Wall Street Journal notes, was “the worst blow to the Israeli military on its side of the Gaza border in years.”
The underground channels provide Hamas with a significant advantage, as Israel fears they can be used to infiltrate Israel and ambush civilians or soldiers.
According to NBC, the tunnels can be incredibly sophisticated. “Some boast concrete walls and ceilings, electric lighting, radio communications, sub-tunnels running off to the sides, and many are replete with booby-traps in case Israeli forces enter them.”
The Palestinian militant group has been expanding its network of tunnels for years. As one Israeli military official told The New York Times, “Actually there are two Gazas … One above ground and another under the ground.”
The tunnels made headlines in 2006 when Hamas used one to cross the border and seize an Israeli soldier. They held that soldier for five years before he was released in exchange for 1,000 jailed Palestinians. (Via Al Jazeera, Israel Defense Forces / CC BY SA 2.0)
In 2013, after Israel discovered this concrete tunnel, the military froze the imports of all building materials to Gaza. (Via Euronews)
And in March of this year, the Israeli army claimed to have found the longest ever Hamas tunnel — reaching more than 65 feet underground. (Via The Telegraph)
Similar cross-border tunnels have been used to smuggle in goods from Egypt but most were shut down by Egypt’s new government as part of its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is considered an offshoot. (Via Flickr / Marius Arnesen)
Vox reports Gaza residents often suffer the most from the closure of these tunnels. “Civilians have a hard time accessing basic supplies, like medicines and construction material. The Gaza economy is stifled, and unemployment is estimated to be over 40 percent. The tunnels are the means Gazan civilians have to deal with it. Between Israel and Egypt, they may be in rough shape.”
Meanwhile, Israel has expanded its ground offensive. A hospital spokesperson in Gaza told CNN an Israeli shelling of the town near Gaza City on Sunday killed at least 40 people and wounded 300 others.