Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday commended the Israeli military for unearthing a tunnel allegedly dug by Gaza militants into Israel, saying his government maintains an unyielding policy of combating terrorism, Xinhua reported.
"I praise the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for uncovering the terror tunnel. It is part of our decisive counter-terrorism policy carried out via foiling, intelligence, initiate and response operations," Netanyahu said at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting.
The remarks came after the army on Saturday night announced that it had recently excavated a tunnel running across the border of the Gaza Strip. Army officials concluded it was dug by militants to carry out attacks within Israel, including abductions of civilians and military personnel.
The tunnel was discovered last Monday, the IDF said in a statement. It did not provide further details, imposing an embargo on publishing the announcement for late Sunday.
Local media outlets, however, largely ignored the gag order, disclosing early in the day preliminary details of the underground tunnel.
An undisclosed military unit discovered the shaft of the 120- meter-long tunnel, which was reportedly dug near a kindergarten in Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, one of numerous Israeli communities bordering the Palestinian enclave, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The tunnel was built either to kidnap civilians and soldiers, or to infiltrate the community "and carry out an atrocity in it," the daily quoted military sources as saying.
The Ha'aretz daily reported on its website that several days were required to destroy the tunnel and its exit points, noting that it was the third of its kind to be discovered over the past year.
The tunnel "could easily" have been used to abduct troops, as with the case of Gilad Shalit, Ha'aretz said, referring to an Israeli tank crewman seized by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid in the area in mid-2006, and freed years later in exchange for upwards of a thousand Palestinian security prisoners.
A military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv declined to comment on the reports, saying the details would be confirmed later in the day.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said that the IDF's intensive operations along the Gaza border, combined with his government's policy, are bearing fruit.
"It all resulted in 2013 being the quietest year in more than a decade. Nonetheless, we see a surge in terror activity in recent weeks," Netanyahu said in a statement.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the discovery of the tunnel provided yet another proof that "the Hamas terror organization.... continues to prepare itself for a confrontation with Israel through terror attacks, if it feels that such are within the reach of the realm."
Noting that attempts to harm Israeli civilians and soldiers in the area were prevented by the unearthing of the tunnel, Ya'alon said the military must remain vigil. "Our working assumption is that terror elements in Gaza are trying at any given moment to dig additional tunnels that will be used for carrying out attacks."
The defense chief said he instructed the military over the weekend to halt the transfer of construction materials into Gaza.
Leaders of Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza border called on the military to backtrack on its recent decision to downsize forces guarding communities along northern and southern fronts, media reported.
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