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Israel army says found, blocked 'attack' tunnel from Gaza

— Jerusalem (AFP)

Israel's army said Monday it had discovered and blocked a tunnel leading out of the Gaza Strip that had been dug by the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers.

Israel says the militant group aims to use so-called attack tunnels to infiltrate fighters and abduct Israeli soldiers or civilians as bargaining chips in prisoner exchanges.

The Israeli military said it had identified the tunnel "with two routes belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation, dug from the northern Gaza Strip".

The tunnel had "crossed into Israeli territory", said Brigadier General Nimrod Aloni, the outgoing commander of the Gaza division.

However, he said it stopped short of an underground concrete barrier and therefore "did not pose a threat to Israeli communities in the area near the Gaza Strip".

The army said the tunnel was "neutralised", adding in a statement to AFP that it had been "partly filled with engineering materials".

"This left the tunnel sealed off, unreachable. Explosives were not used in the process," it added.

Hamas responded that "the Palestinian resistance has the right to use all means to enhance its capabilities against the arrogance and criminality" of Israel.

The news came just over a week after a three-day conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce.

At least 49 Palestinians, including several Islamic Jihad fighters and 17 children, were killed in the violence, while in Israel shrapnel wounded three people.

Groups in Gaza, a densely populated coastal territory home to 2.3 million people, have used tunnels since 2007 when Israel imposed a crippling blockade in response to Hamas seizing power there.

Smugglers also established a network of tunnels on the border with Egypt to import everything from household goods to cars and weapons.

In recent years, Egypt has destroyed most of those tunnels.

In December, Israeli authorities announced that they had completed construction of a barrier along the Gaza border, described as an "iron wall" equipped with underground sensors, radars and cameras to counter threats.

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