Tension in Gaza Belt Following Tunnel Demolition; Jewish Home Furious Over IDF Clarification
Tension reigned in the Gaza Belt region Tuesday as residents braced for possible retaliation from terror groups following Monday’s IDF strike on a cross-border tunnel that killed seven Islamic Jihad members and injured 11. Officials in the area said schools would operate as usual but that children would not be allowed to spend recess time outside.
IDF officials said overnight between Monday and Tuesday that the attack was not intended to kill terrorists or a targeted killing of any particular Islamic Jihad officials, but only to destroy a tunnel that reached into Israeli territory.
But the army added that certain dangers are inherent to digging tunnels, and denied Palestinian reports that Israel had filled the tunnel with chemicals. They added that the injuries occurred as a result of “side effects” of the attack.
“This was not a targeted killing and we had no intention at any stage of doing anything that could have been seen as a strike against one official or another. Our goal was simply to destroy the tunnel from our territory… (but) there are side effects in tunnels like falling sand, smoke and dust. We did not pour anything into the tunnel. We only used legal, normal methods to blow up the tunnel,” the military said.
Although the army said the statement was not intended as an apology, leaders of the Jewish Home party were furious. Party officials called on the IDF General Staff to investigate the “bizarre apology,” and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the party chairman, wrote on Twitter that “we must not apologize for the successful elimination of terrorists.
“Let me be clear: We are talking about terrorists who were involved in digging an explosive tunnel *inside Israeli territory* that was intended to kill Israeli women and children,” Bennett wrote.
Ophir Sofer, the secretary general of the National Union wing of the Jewish Home, added that “something has gone terribly wrong here: The IDF blew up a tune that was meant to serve terrorists infiltrate into Israel and kill Jews – and instead of praising the operation, someone in the Israel Defense Force decided to apologize….the murderers’ only goal here was to test out there operations underground in order to better prepare for the next round of fighting,” Sofer said.
The IDF statement that the Palestinian deaths were collateral damage, and not the targets of the attack, is of particular note in light of an “official” cease fire between Hamas and Israel that has reigned since the end of Operation Protective Edge. De facto, the two sides agreed that Israel would not assassinate Hamas officials if Hamas refrained from rocket attacks and moved to prevent other armed groups in the Strip from doing the same.
Nevertheless, there have been more than 50 cross border attacks since September, 2014