War goes underground in Gaza as toll mounts

War goes underground in Gaza as toll mounts

Fehim Taştekin GAZA CITY
War goes underground in Gaza as toll mounts

Israeli soldiers ride an armoured personnel carrier (APC) (front) and tanks (rear) near the border with Gaza July 20, 2014. REUTERS Photo

As no soldiers or uniformed police officers are seen in the streets of Gaza city, the Palestinians are waging their main fights against Israel through underground tunnels.

While listening to one of their friends, who had lost his two relatives a few hours before, a group of old militants was acting as if nothing extraordinary had happened. When asked about the difference between this fight compared to those in 2002 and 2012, Muhammad Suleiman said they had managed to disperse the rocket launching pads across the Gaza Strip thanks to the tunnels. He said they had placed the rocket launching pads near the Israeli border via these tunnels, rather than installing them on the coast of the sea.

These remarks from Palestinian militants on the significance of the tunnels was confirmed by a statement from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on July 18, which said they had uncovered a number of these tunnels, which are “as elaborate as a labyrinth.”

“Beneath the Gaza Strip lies an underground Gaza, an offensive tunnel network that is almost entirely hidden on the surface and as elaborate as a labyrinth. Today IDF soldiers discovered 10 of these tunnels and over 20 points of access and it is merely the first day of the ground phase of the operation,” the IDF statement said.

“Hamas’ underground tunnels are made for kidnapping and murdering Israelis. That’s why we are destroying them,” the IDF spokesman also said on the Israeli army’s official Twitter account.

On July 20, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the tunnels were constructed by Hamas in “an obvious effort” to try to kidnap Israelis, adding that Israel had “every right in the world to defend itself” from attacks by Hamas militants in Gaza.

The statement came as more than 60 Palestinians were killed on July 20 as Israeli forces pounded northern Gaza, sending thousands more fleeing in terror in the deadliest assault on the enclave in five years.

Inside the ravaged neighborhood of Shejaiya, there were hellish scenes of carnage and chaos as a convoy of ambulances rushed in.

 Israel said its ground operation to destroy the network of tunnels used by militants to stage cross-border attacks was to be “expanded” later on July 20. “This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security,” the army stated.

 As the death toll in Gaza passed 410, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to add his weight to truce efforts, while Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was to hold talks in Qatar with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.

Meanwhile, Palestinian militant Muhammad Suleiman told daily Hürriyet that Israel was “surprised” that the rockets had almost reached Tel Aviv this time. He believes that Israel is staging the operation in Gaza to remove pressures on the government due to domestic issues and used last month’s kidnapping of the three Israeli teens as “an opportunity.” Israel’s second aim is to prevent a consensus government between Fatah and Hamas, Suleiman added.

Ebu Rami, another Palestinian militant, said Palestinian groups in Gaza were in more harmony than in any previous years, with all people supporting the resistance. He also claimed that 54 percent of Israelis were similarly against the operations in Gaza.

However, Rami added that this was the first time that Gaza had been “left to its fate” by the world. “There is silence across the world. It seems that everyone has agreed to end the resistance, and this is why Gaza is now united,” he said. 

Rami said women, children and the elderly had died more in this operation than in previous operations. “They wanted to take revenge from civilians as they cannot capture resisters,” he said.