- Israel attacks Hamas tunnels in Gaza military campaign
- Tunnels stretch hundreds of kilometers under Gaza
- Israel says Israeli hostages are being held in some tunnels
ZEELIM GROUND FORCES BASE, Israel, Nov 16 (Reuters) – After locating what they described as the entrance to a Hamas tunnel under an evacuated hospital in northern Gaza, Israeli army engineers filled the passage with exploding gel and hit the detonator .
The blast engulfed the building and sent smoke billowing from at least three points along a nearby road in a district of the city of Beit Hanoun, surveillance footage showed.
“The gel spread and exploded whatever they had waiting for us in the tunnel,” an army officer told reporters at a briefing at the Zeelim Ground Forces Base in southern Israel.
Clearing the tunnels is a key part of Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in response to the Palestinian militant group’s deadly attack on southern Israel on October 7.
When not using munitions to map the bunkers, access shafts and tunnels that both sides say run hundreds of kilometers (miles) beneath Gaza, the army is opting for tracking robots and other remote-controlled technology.
The officer could not be identified under the rules of the briefing and declined to provide further details about the underground fighting, which he said was a work in progress. He did not name the hospital in Beit Hanoun.
“I think there are other methods being developed,” he said. “This is where creativity and innovation come in handy.”
In Beit Hanoun, where his forces operated, some gunmen had stormed the Israeli military from tunnel shafts and had been killed, he said.
Israel’s policy, he said, was not to send personnel in the other direction to confront Palestinian fighters, who would have a defender’s advantage in narrow, dark, under-ventilated and collapsible passages with which they were familiar.
“We don’t want to go down there. We know they left us a lot of side bombs (improvised explosive devices),” he said.
One such bomb, rigged to the cover of a ground-level tunnel access shaft, had killed four Special Forces reservists last week.
THE TUNNEL NETWORK
Hamas has tunnels for attacks, smuggling and storage, security sources say. Dozens of shafts may lead to each tunnel at depths of between 20 and 80 meters (65–260 ft).
Destroying a shaft is relatively easy and quick, the officer said, adding, “Any platoon can do it.”
The Israeli military said last week that 130 shafts had been destroyed so far, but gave no figures for demolished tunnels.
The tunnels are more difficult to tackle. The official said several tonnes of the exploding gel – on which he declined to give any technical details, other than to say it is brought in by truck – is required for every few hundred meters of tunnel.
Post-action analysis is difficult. The officer said that about half of the shafts in his Beit Hanoun zone of operations had been destroyed, but acknowledged that these can be rebuilt.
“It’s hard to say how many tunnels (have been destroyed) because they are all connected,” he said.
Hamas has denied using hospitals as cover for such tunnels. It has rejected Israel’s claims that it has a command center under Gaza’s main hospital, Al Shifa, which Israeli forces entered on Wednesday.
VISITS TO AVOID TAKING HOSTAGES
Hamas took about 240 people back to Gaza as prisoners in the October 7 attack, in which about 1,200 people were killed, Israel has said. One of a handful of hostages who were released said she and at least two dozen others had been held in a tunnel.
The army officer said care was taken not to endanger tunnels that may contain hostages.
“We sometimes get indications that this (a target) might be related to hostages. And then we know not to attack it unless we get a clearance (that it’s clear),” he said
Like much of northern Gaza, Beit Hanoun has been emptied of civilians who fled south at the behest of Israel as it sent in ground troops to try to wipe out Hamas.
“The only population left are the terrorists,” the officer said, adding that a secondary blast triggered by a tunnel destruction blast would sometimes “bring down a building a few hundred meters away”.
Captured Palestinian gunmen have provided Israel with intelligence about the tunnel network, he said, but that information has been limited.
“Most of them don’t know the whole city. But they know their own village, they know the tunnel system pretty well,” the officer said.
The officer said it could take months to destroy Gaza’s entire underground network.
“I think it’s more complicated than the New York City subway,” he said.
Editing by Timothy Heritage
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