JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Tuesday that militants in the Gaza Strip dug a tunnel dozens of meters (yards) deep that crossed under the security fence around the territory before it was detected by underground sensors.
Hours after the announcement, a rocket fired from Gaza was intercepted by Israeli missile defenses, the military said. Late Tuesday, the army said fighter jets and attack helicopters “struck an underground infrastructure” for the militant Hamas group. There were no reports of casualties in either attack.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the tunnel crossed into Israeli territory but posed “no threat” to nearby Israeli communities and that there was not yet an exit on the other side. He said troops will “neutralize” the tunnel in the coming days.
Israel has uncovered around 20 such tunnels since the 2014 war with the Islamic group Hamas, which rules Gaza. Palestinian militants launched deadly attacks through such tunnels during the war.
There was no immediate comment from Hamas.
Israel has pointed to the tunnels, as well as Hamas' increasingly sophisticated rocket capabilities, to justify the blockade it has imposed on Gaza since the militant group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The blockade, supported by neighboring Egypt, has taken a heavy toll on the territory's 2 million Palestinian residents.
Conricus said the tunnel was detected by sensors mounted on an underground barrier being built along the 55-kilometer (35-mile) frontier. The barrier is expected to be completed by March. It's the first such tunnel to be uncovered in more than a year.
Conricus said it was not yet clear whether the tunnel was built by Hamas or another militant group, but that it would have required a significant financial investment. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.
Israel and Hamas have clashed on a number of occasions since the 2014 war. An informal cease-fire brokered by Egypt has brought calm in exchange for the easing of the blockade and the entry of financial aid from the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar, but fighting still erupts from time to time.