Six hours before a humanitarian ceasefire took effect between the Islamist militant group Hamas and Israel, over a dozen fightersallegedly belonging to the U.S.- and EU-listed terrorist organisation attempted to enter a community inside of Israel using a long tunnel dug under the border.
The attempted infiltration took place near Sufa, a kibbutz not far from where the borders of Gaza, Israel, and Egypt meet. According to the Jerusalem Post the infiltration was followed by a brief firefight in which a currently unknown number of casualties occurred.
Israel has apparently been effective in destroying Hamas ordnance — according to some estimates, over a third of Hamas’s rockets have been either used or destroyed. If one of Israel’s war aims is to exhaust or otherwise neutralize Hamas’s arsenal it’s had a degree of success so far.
The tunnels — some of which extend nearly a mile, and can even accommodate vehicles — are a different kind of challenge. Even during the Israeli military’s decades-long presence in the Strip, Israel’s security services had great difficulty locating and destroying these tunnels, Miri Eisen, a Israel Defence Forces reserve colonel and former assistant to the head of military intelligence said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
An Israeli ground operation would likely be aimed at the tunnels, Eisen speculated. “These tunnels have strategic significance,” she explained, adding that a terrorist attack or kidnapping inside of Israel “would heighten the conflict to a completely different level.”
On Thursday, much of the Israeli side of the Gaza border region remained a closed area, with security services curtailing civilian access. It’s unknown just how many tunnels still remain and even whether there have been secondary infiltrations into Israeli territory:
Reports that there is a second event, still ongoing, around Kerem Shalom crossing. Hamas, appears to have entered area through tunnels.
— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) July 17, 2014
Right now, both Hamas and Israel are engaging in what can best be described as proximity talks in Cairo, as Eisin explained. “In Egypt today we have for the first time Israeli and Hamas representatives. They don’t meet each other. They sit in separate areas. The go-between are the Egyptians.”
Today’s events are a portent of escalating conflict — even as representatives of both sides are in communication over a possible solution.
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