Israel has admitted to flooding Hamas tunnels in Gaza with seawater in an attempt to neutralize the militant group’s underground network, a move that could further inflame tensions after recent fighting.
Israel Confirms Efforts to Flood Tunnels
The Israeli military confirmed it was pumping seawater into Hamas tunnels running under Gaza in an effort to undermine the group’s underground infrastructure. Israel says Hamas has built an extensive network of tunnels which militants use to store weapons and move around out of sight of Israeli aircraft and surveillance.
Flooding the tunnels with seawater aims to destabilize them and make them unsafe to use. An Israeli military spokesperson said “We are determined to continue with our efforts to deny Hamas the ability to rebuild its tunnel infrastructure.” The flooded tunnels are located under Gaza City as well as the southern cities of Rafah and Khan Younis.
Hamas has not directly commented on the tunnel flooding but a spokesman warned Israel would pay a “high price on the ground for these crimes” against what he called Palestinian “holy sites.” The group views destruction of tunnels as an attack on its power and legitimacy in Gaza.
Destruction Follows Burials and Exhumations
The tunnel flooding comes after recent controversy over an Israeli military operation to demolish a cemetery in the Khan Younis area, which the army said was hiding a tunnel opening. Bulldozers were brought in to destroy parts of the Bani Suheila cemetery, disturbing graves and scattering human remains which had to be reburied by Palestinians afterwards.
Families had rushed to bury their dead only days earlier during pauses in the fighting. But the swift burials meant proper religious rituals could not be carried out. This led Gaza religious authorities to later exhume a number of bodies so that delayed funeral rites could take place.
Israel claims its incursion into the cemetery was justified as militants use graveyards to mask tunnel entrances from air observation. A Hamas spokesman admitted tunnels exist under or next to cemeteries but accused Israel of showing blatant disregard for Muslim burial sites.
The turmoil after the demolitions left families grieving their loved ones for a second time. A Gaza woman whose father’s grave was desecrated lamented “we buried them just to be exhumed and buried again – the living die over and over in Gaza.”
Ongoing Efforts to Destroy Tunnel Networks
Israel’s current tunnel flooding tactic forms part of long-running efforts to demolish Hamas’ underground networks which have intensified during periods of conflict. The country launched a ground assault into Gaza in 2023 focused partly on finding and destroying tunnels, backed by heavy aerial bombardment of suspected tunnel locations which caused casualties.
Despite over 100 days of intense fighting, reports suggest up to 80 percent of Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure remains intact. Analysts state completely removing the tunnel threat may prove impossible without a lengthy Israeli reoccupation of Gaza – a move with its own massive military and civilian risks.
Tunnels enable militants to move personnel and munitions undetected by Israeli surveillance, launch cross-border raids, and provide hiding places during Israeli airstrikes. Their persistence despite bombardment highlights the difficulties Israel faces in countering this strategic Hamas capability developed over many years.
With tensions still simmering after recent ceasefire breakdowns, further Israeli targeting of Hamas tunnels may trigger an escalation if militants view it as intolerable provocation. The extent to which flooded tunnels remain at least partially functional is also unknown. Any renewed rocket fire from Gaza would likely be met with more intensive Israeli strikes.
International Pressure and Legal Issues
World powers including the US have urged both sides to avoid actions that could spark a new round of violence. But Israeli leaders believe firm military moves are necessary to degrade Hamas’ military power long-term.
There are also questions around the legality of Israel’s cemetery demolition given rules against disturbing gravesites. While the army says it targets only non-consecrated areas, critics argue the sanctity of entire cemeteries is compromised.
Outlook: Further Escalation Possible
With Gaza still reeling from the 2023 war, all parties know any return to major fighting would bring more death and destruction with Hamas boasting enhanced long-range rockets.
But deescalation efforts by mediators have so far failed to produce stability. Hardline Israeli rhetoric signals more tunnel targeting and airstrikes if rocket fire resumes. Hamas may also retaliate if it feels cornered by anything short of lifting the Gaza blockade.
Ultimately the root causes of cross-border violence remain unresolved. The persistence of Hamas’ tunnel networks and rocket arsenals leaves open the likelihood of another round of intense Israel-Gaza clashes at some point absent lasting political solutions.
Table 1: Key Facts on Hamas Tunnels
|Number of Tunnels
|Gaza City, Rafah, Khan Younis
|Weapons storage, militant movement, cross-border raids
|Israel’s Targeting Methods
|Flooding, aerial strikes, ground incursions
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