Palestinians Destroy Tunnel near Israeli Border

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Palestinians blew up a large, explosives-laden smuggling tunnel near the border with Israel Thursday night, lightly injuring one soldier and tossing an army vehicle some 20 meters (65 feet) away.

Soldiers were uncovering the shaft when Palestinians blew it up, leaving a 4-meter (12-foot) crater. The tunnel butting up to Israel's border indicates Islamists are planning large-scale terror attacks and abductions.

Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Liebovich told reporters the 5-meter-wide, 4-meter-deep (16 by 13 foot) tunnel was one of the largest the IDF had seen.

"We definitely see it as a very severe event," Liebovich said. "The amount of explosives was very big. A kidnapping attempt is a possibility. Killing soldiers is a possibility," she explained.

It was the latest in a series of incidents over the past two weeks in which Arabs remotely detonated bombs near soldiers conducting routine patrols or repairing damaged parts of the security fence.

"During the past two weeks, a number of explosive devices were uncovered in the area adjacent to the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip, including the explosive device that was detonated at a military vehicle and wounded an IDF officer severely and two additional soldiers lightly," the IDF Spokesman's Office said in a statement released earlier Thursday evening. "Following the incident it was decided to act in the area in order to uncover additional explosive devices and fix the security fence."

"The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians and will operate against anyone who uses terror against the State of Israel. The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip," the statement concluded.

Hamas, in fact, did claim responsibility for the incident, saying the explosion was caused by a roadside bomb. The terror group's "military" wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said it was in response for the death of an 11-year-old boy killed during a firefight with IDF soldiers, though it's unclear who shot him.

Because of escalating attacks along the border, Brig.-Gen. Mickey Edelstein, commander of the Gaza Division, ordered troops to uncover smuggling tunnels and explosive devices.

Edelstein arrived at the scene Thursday and will conduct a special situation assessment of the incident on Friday.

In June 2006, a Hamas-led terror cell infiltrated Israel through a tunnel and attacked an IDF outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing. The terrorists killed two soldiers, wounded three and kidnapped Gilad Shalit, escaping back into Gaza.

Shalit languished in a Hamas prison for more than five years before a lopsided prisoner exchange (more than 1,000 terrorists) bought his release. 

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