IDF Official: Gaza Underground Wall to Be Finished in Months

BE'ER SHEVA (AP) -
An entrance to a tunnel which Israel's military said it had discovered is seen just outside the southern Gaza Strip May 6, 2016. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An entrance to a Hamas tunnel is seen just outside the southern Gaza Strip, May 6. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

A senior Israeli military official on Sunday said that a massive underground barrier being built along the Gaza border to defend against Hamas tunnels should be finished in a matter of months, dealing what he said would be a serious blow to the Islamic terrorist group.

The Southern Command official said the structure was at the forefront of a new effort meant to rob Hamas of one of its most potent weapons.

During a 2014 war, Hamas terrorists on several occasions made their way into Israel through a tunnel network, though they did not manage to reach civilian areas. Israel destroyed 32 tunnels during that conflict, and since then has made neutralizing the tunnel threat a top priority.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines, said Hamas is now trying to restore its military capabilities, with its primary focus on building a subterranean warren of tunnels to hide from Israeli strikes and sneak into Israel to carry out attacks in a future round of fighting.

In recent weeks, Israel is believed to have begun work on a 40-mile underground barrier expected to stretch dozens of yards deep. Work crews have been spotted digging trenches and installing infrastructure in the ground.

In a briefing with reporters Sunday, the Israeli official showed video footage of heavy machinery raking the sandy border area, a series of holes drilled deep into the ground, a stretch of land the army has flooded and some controlled explosions. The army also showed a photo of simulated tunnels where soldiers train for subterranean combat.

He declined to discuss specific features of the barrier being built, calling it a key strategic project. But he said the new wall will defend Israel’s border with Gaza both above and below the ground. The army’s goal, he said, is to turn the underground battlefield into a “death trap” for Hamas.

“It will take time to build it. It’s a big project. But it is a main goal,” he said.

Since the war, Israel has announced the discovery of several more tunnels. Israel has already surrounded Gaza with a sophisticated above-ground fence fortified with sensors, cameras, barbed wire and watch towers.