Israel moves ahead on underground wall around Gaza
JERUSALEM – Agence France-PresseIsrael is pushing ahead with a project to build a giant underground wall around the Gaza Strip to block tunnels that could be used for attacks, the army said on Aug. 10.
The project comes after the government faced heavy criticism over Hamas’s use of tunnels in the 2014 Gaza war, with a state inquiry earlier this year accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and army top brass of having been unprepared for the threat.
“In the coming months, we are going to accelerate the construction of the barrier,” Major General Eyal Zamir told journalists.
“We hope that construction will be complete in two years.”
Army radio reported that the wall, comprising concrete planks and sensors, will stretch some 64 kilometres (40 miles).
It is expected to be some six meters high and 40 meters deep, and cost around three billion shekels (710 million euros, $834 million).
It will also include an offshore barrier intended to stop sea-based commando attacks.
Construction Minister Yoav Galant, also a former military commander, said the wall will be built in Israeli territory parallel to the border fence sealing off the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas.
“The fact that the work will be located in our sovereign territory rules out any justification for attacks against those working there,” Galant told army radio.
A military official made similar comments to AFP on condition of anonymity, saying “the barrier’s purpose is defensive only.” The army also distributed photographs of what it said were two civilian buildings in the north of the Gaza Strip with tunnel entrances within.
Zamir said that “Hamas is digging tunnels under civilian homes in the Gaza Strip and will be held responsible if we are forced to attack targets,” he said.
“Residents must understand that we consider those buildings as legitimate targets and that those who live there are putting their lives in danger.”
Attack tunnels were a key weapon for Hamas during the 2014 Gaza war.
Hamas also built a vast network of tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt to smuggle goods and allegedly weapons.
The Israeli army found and destroyed several tunnels during the 2014 war, while Egypt has also destroyed smuggling tunnels.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the Gaza Strip since the group wrested control of the territory from the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in 2007.
Destroying the tunnels and stopping Gaza-based Palestinian militants, particularly Hamas, from launching rockets into Israel were the key declared goals of Israel’s 2014 offensive.
The war killed 2,251 Palestinians and left 100,000 homeless, according to the United Nations.
On the Israeli side, 74 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers.
Separately, Israeli authorities have demolished three homes and sealed off a fourth of Palestinians who carried out attacks that killed a soldier and a policewoman, the army said on Aug. 10.
Israel regularly carries out such demolitions, which it says act as a deterrent, but human rights groups and Palestinians say they punish families for the actions of relatives.
According to police, two of the assailants opened fire at a group of officers who returned fire, and a third stabbed the border policewoman a short distance away before being shot. All three attackers were killed.