United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “alarm” at Hamas’s pledge to keep building terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel and to advance the development of rockets to fire at the Jewish state.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the UN chief said remarks and actions like those undertaken by Hamas do “serious disservice” to Gaza’s population, and endanger efforts to rebuild the coastal enclave devastated in three rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas since 2008.
“Such statements and actions put at risk reconstruction, humanitarian and development efforts by the international community and Palestinian and Israeli authorities. They also do a serious disservice to the long-suffering people of Gaza,” said Ban.
The UN chief also reiterated “his condemnation of terrorism in all its manifestations,” a reference to a row that erupted earlier in the week, when he drew fire in Israel for stating that the current wave of Palestinian violence could be rooted in “frustration.”
Ban’s comments came a day after Hamas senior official Ismail Haniyeh told Gazans that “heroes” from the group are tirelessly digging tunnels designed for use in attacks on Israel.
He was speaking at the Gaza City funerals for seven members of Hamas military wing, Izzadin Kassam, killed last week when the tunnel they were working on collapsed due to heavy rains and floods.
Haniyeh also vowed that the group is growing stronger, and would use any means at its disposal to prepare for its next confrontation with Israel,.
“Some believe that the calm, when the noise of the cannons fall silent, is intended for rest. But the [Izz ad-Din] al-Qassam Brigades continue with their campaign through preparation and training,” said Haniyeh.
“East of Gaza City, heroes are digging through rock and building tunnels, and to the west they are experimenting with rockets every day. The resistance continues on its path of liberation of the land,” he added.
Haniyeh’s remarks come at a time of renewed focus on the tunnels in Gaza, with Israel accusing Hamas of reconstructing them following its 2014 war with Hamas.
Residents in Israeli communities along the border with Gaza they regularly hear digging and drilling sounds.
A resident of Kibbutz Nir Am, just 4.5 kilometers from the volatile border, said:”We don’t know what to do. At night you can hear digging and drilling sounds. We report them to security forces, they send inspection teams in the morning and after a day or two, we’re told nothing unusual is going on. This circus has been going on for a long time, and we live in fear.”
Israel destroyed at least 30 tunnels during the operation, but some assessments say that Hamas has rebuilt them to a similar level.
There have also been numerous incidents in which Hamas has attempted to smuggle materials into Gaza through Israeli crossings, in order to replenish its infrastructure for future terror attacks.
The crossings allow hundreds of trucks of aid and basic materials to enter the Gaza Strip daily. Israel’s Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who is responsible for such arrangements warned that Hamas is also exploiting Israeli visas, handed to Gazans for medical treatment or business in Israel, recruiting recipients to gather information or smuggle goods. He said, “It appears as if Hamas is preparing itself for a military clash, and is not interested in serving the public in Gaza.”
News about Hamas rebuilding the terror tunnels has sparked a debate over how Israel can best counter the threat.
Writing in daily Yediot Ahronot, editorialist Yossi Yehoshua says, “The dilemma of the political echelon will be whether to act immediately or to wait for the next clash. There is no unequivocal answer.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has warned Israel would employ greater force than in summer 2014 if Hamas resumed tunnel attacks.
“If we are attacked via tunnels from the Gaza Strip, we will retaliate harshly against Hamas, with greater force than that exercised during Operation Protective Edge. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but … I suggest no one tests us,”he said.
Israel, Netanyahu added, “systematically works to counter all threats, including those posed by Hamas, using both offensive and defensive measures.”