Israel finds large tunnel adjacent to Gaza border, raising new questions about pre-war intelligence

BEIT HANOUN (Gaza Strip) – The Israeli military said Sunday it had discovered a large tunnel in Gaza near a busy crossing into Israel, raising new questions about how Israeli surveillance could have overlooked such a tunnel. Clear preparations By Hamas due to the deadly attack launched by the militants on October 7.

The tunnel entrance is located just a few hundred meters from the heavily fortified Erez crossing and a nearby Israeli military base.

The army said it extends more than four kilometers (2.5 miles), is connected to a sprawling tunnel network across Gaza, and is wide enough for cars to pass through. The army said on Sunday that the tunnel facilitated the passage of vehicles, militants and supplies in preparation for the October 7 attack.

On that day, militants used a rocket-propelled grenade to breach part of the wall near the Erez crossing and stormed the base, killing at least three soldiers and kidnapping some of them and returning them to Gaza, the army said. This was one of several places along the border wall where militants easily breached Israeli security defenses and entered Israeli territory, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 others hostage.

The unprecedented attack led to a devastating war that lasted more than 10 weeks and claimed the lives of more than 18,000 people in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel says that destroying Hamas’s tunnel network is a main goal, and that most of the tunnel network passes under schools, hospitals, and residential areas.

Israeli military, intelligence and political officials did this Under severe criticism Because they failed to detect the attack early.

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Major Nir Dinar, an army spokesman, said that Israeli security services were not aware of the tunnel before October 7 because Israeli border defenses only discovered tunnels designated for entering Israel.

Dinar said: “As far as I know, this tunnel does not cross from Gaza to Israel and stops 400 meters from the border, which means that the indicators will not indicate that a tunnel is being built.” He added that the entrance is a circular cement opening that leads to a cavernous passage, and is located under a parking garage, which hides it from Israeli aircraft and satellite images.

While the military was aware that Hamas had an extensive tunnel network, Dinar said they did not believe the militants would be able to carry out their plans for a large-scale attack.

“It is not surprising that this has been Hamas’ strategy all along,” Dinar said. “The surprise is that they succeeded, and the size of this tunnel… was really shocking.”

The Erez crossing, a fortress-like facility that handles the movement of Palestinians into Israel for work, medical care and crossing into neighboring Jordan, held great symbolic value for Hamas. The huge crossing was protected by security cameras, military patrols, and the adjacent military base. The crossing was severely damaged on October 7 and has not been reopened.

The army said that its Yahalom unit, which specializes in tunnel warfare, has been working on digging the tunnel since it was first discovered. They say they found weapons inside.

“At this point, this is the largest tunnel in Gaza,” Admiral Daniel Hagary, the chief military spokesman, told reporters during a tour of the tunnel entrance on Friday.

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Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Hagari said forces had discovered at least two other “city-sized” tunnels of the same scope, and were still mapping them.

“This was a major project that had been waiting for it, and it was finished and ready,” Hajjari said in a press conference. He pointed out that the tunnel was used during the war and that Israeli soldiers killed Hamas activists inside the tunnel.

The army also showed reporters soldiers’ barracks at the nearby base, which it said the militants had set on fire. They looked like furnace ashes, with blackened walls and molten beds. The army announced on Friday that it had found the bodies of two soldiers who were working at the base on October 7 in Gaza.

Dinar, who visited the tunnel on Friday, said that it is twice the height of other tunnels in Gaza and three times its width. He said that it is equipped with ventilation and electricity and dives 50 meters underground at some points. He said it was clear that millions of dollars as well as a significant amount of fuel and manpower would be needed to build and sustain the tunnel.

Hajjari said the army planned to destroy the tunnel and continue to “hunt” the militants hiding in another tunnel.

“We will chase them even if we have to go down into the tunnels,” Hajari said. “We also have to do this with concern for rescuing our hostages and understanding that some of them may be in the tunnels.”

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