JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military on Sunday said it has destroyed a tunnel built by the Hamas militant group that stretched from the Gaza Strip several hundred meters (yards) into Israeli territory, declaring a breakthrough in its war against underground threats from the Palestinian enclave.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, told reporters that Israel had used a new set of "tools" developed since a 2014 war with Hamas in order to destroy the tunnel. He said forces had detected the tunnel months ago and continued to monitor construction efforts by Hamas militants before demolishing it.
Israel has made neutralizing the tunnel threat a top priority since that war, when Hamas militants on several occasions made their way into Israel. Although they did not manage to reach civilian areas, the infiltrations caught Israel off guard, killing five soldiers in one attack, and terrified the local population.
Conricus said a new system involving combat units, military intelligence, logistics and research had been used to destroy the tunnel. The system was first used to detect a tunnel that was destroyed on Oct. 30, but other aspects of the system were used this time around, he said.
"There seems to be a change, a paradigm here in how these terror tunnels will be able to threaten us in the future," he said. "It is by no means behind us, but this will surely force the terrorist organizations to change techniques and to adapt."
Hamas, the armed group that controls Gaza, declined to comment.
Conricus said the tunnel began in the central Gazan town of Khan Younis and stretched for over a kilometer (half a mile) across the border and into Israel. Although not complete, he said the tunnel was "very substantial," equipped with electricity, communications equipment and a ventilation system. It was located about a kilometer from an Israeli community.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the tunnels were an unacceptable threat and that Israel would invest "every resource" to stop them. "I hope that in the coming months the threat of tunnels on the residents surrounding Gaza will become a thing of the past," he said.
The army said the timing of the weekend operation was not connected to a flare-up of deadly violence that followed President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The decision has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek Israel-annexed east Jerusalem as their own capital.
Over the weekend, Israeli airstrikes hit several militant sites in Gaza in response to rocket fire, killing two Hamas militants. On Friday, two protesters were shot dead in skirmishes with Israeli troops along Gaza's border.
Hamas' military wing issued a statement earlier Sunday threatening Israel with a "heavy price."
"Our battle for Jerusalem is going on round the clock, above and under the ground," the statement said.
Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed reporting.