The Israeli military on Thursday said it thwarted 13 Hamas terrorists who slipped into Israel through a smuggling tunnel armed with rocket-propelled grenades and a slew of other weapons less than 2 miles from an Israeli community.
Video distributed by the Israel Defense Forces showed the Gaza-based militants emerging from the tunnel, then quickly jumping back in once they realized they had been discovered. Moments later, a massive bomb was dropped on them by an Israeli air force jet, the IDF said.
The IDF later released images of the weapons the terrorists left behind as they tried to escape back into the tunnel.
“We could have woken up to a horrible morning with many dead and wounded. Thanks to the alertness and preparedness [it] ended this way,” IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, another IDF spokesman, said the Israeli military discovered the militants with the help of “different sensors” and called the interception “a huge success.”
Lerner said that the spot where the militants emerged from their tunnel was less than 2 miles from the Israeli farming community Kibbutz Sufa. Residents were alerted to stay in their homes for hours while a search was conducted for any militants who may have escaped the strike.
The IDF said it did not know how many of the militants were struck and said it fired on the Gaza side of the tunnel entrances to block their escape, the Israeli news site Ynet reported. No Israeli soldiers or civilians were injured, the IDF said.
By contrast, Hamas said all of its men returned safely to their bases and that they had killed and wounded Israelis.
The foiled attack came just hours before the start of Thursday’s five-hour cease-fire requested by the United Nations and agreed to by both Israel and Hamas to allow humanitarian aid distribution. Two hours into the cease-fire, Palestinian militants fired three mortars into southern Israel, the IDF said.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were in Egypt Thursday for negotiations to reach a cease-fire. According to Egyptian media reports, Israeli and Hamas envoys were not speaking to each other directly.
Gazans took advantage of the respite from Israeli bombing runs on Hamas targets by going out for supplies and lining up at banks.
Heavy rocket fire was launched on southern and central Israel, including the largest city of Tel Aviv, during the hours before the declared temporary truce. Some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.
The IDF said that since it began its counteroffensive on July 8 to thwart the Hamas rocket attacks that have plagued Israel for weeks, Gaza-based militants had fired more than 1,381 rockets at Israel, or at least one rocket every 10 minutes.
Tunnels have been used by Gaza militants in the past, notably in 2006 when two Israeli soldiers were ambushed and killed by terrorists who had infiltrated from underground into Israel. Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas in the same way and held in captivity for more than five years.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Israel had a right to defend itself.
“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people. There’s no country on earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets,” Obama said.