A Palestinian smuggler climbs down into a tunnel, temporarily closed by Hamas forces, beneath the Egyptian-Gaza border in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip April 14, 2010.
Israel launched a ground campaign Thursday to target and eliminate a series of tunnels around the Gaza strip that Hamas militants have been using to smuggle goods and materials, and to carry out attacks. Militants have continued to build and use these tunnels despite repeated Israeli efforts to block or destroy them. Below, you can see the entrance to one of those tunnels on the Israeli side of the Gaza border in March 2014. That entrance was exposed by the Israeli military.
Tunnels have a long history in Israeli-Palestinian clashes. In 2006, Hamas tunneled into Israel, seized a soldier, Gilad Shalit, and held him for five years before negotiating his release in return for more than 1,o00 jailed Palestinians. The picture below shows a Palestinian worker repairing a tunnel that was flooded by Egyptian forces under the Egyptian-Gaza border in February 2013.
A spokesman for Israel’s military told Reuters that its campaign to target the tunnels isn’t meant to destroy Hamas itself. However, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, scoffed at the new Israeli ground attacks, telling Reuters, “We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act.” Below a worker ascends on a rope in a tunnel in the southern Gaza strip in October 2013.
The current conflict was spurred by both the deaths of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and the subsequent killing of a Palestinian 16-year-old on July 2 in what many believe may have been retaliation. In the photo below, a Palestinian security officer is preparing to seal a tunnel used to smuggle arms in the southern Gaza strip.
Hamas leaders have publicly boasted about their “tunnel campaign,” according to Reuters. They have posted publicity videos online featuring soldiers smuggling rockets through the tunnels before emerging in an orchard, loading the rocket into a hidden launcher, and firing it. The tunnels are used to transport anything from medicine to cattle to luxury goods and foods, in addition to weapons, according to CBS News. In the photo below, a smuggler is actually hauling a calf through one of the tunnels.
Sometimes even people are moved in and out, like this Palestinian groom walking with his Egyptian bride beneath the Gaza-Egypt border in March 2013.
The new operation has no set end date, and duration may be dependent on how many civilians are killed — which could increase pressure for a ceasefire. As the Associated Press noted Friday, the civilian Palestinian casualty count is now above 270 and “could go through the roof.”