JERUSALEM — The Israeli military announced Sunday that it had discovered an underground tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel that could have been used for an attack against Israeli soldiers or civilians.
In response to the discovery, the military said it had suspended the flow of building materials to the private sector in Gaza, the Palestinian coastal enclave.
Major General Sami Turjeman, the Southern Command chief, said the freeze was ordered because Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, was using construction materials approved by Israel for civilian purposes to build tunnels like the one discovered recently.
Officials said Israel would continue to allow the transfer of construction materials for projects overseen by international organizations.
Military officials said the tunnel was about a mile long and was built at a depth of nearly 60 feet. They added that it had probably been constructed more than a year ago and was discovered last week. It was the third such tunnel discovered this year, they said.
The mouth of the tunnel is near Ein Hashlosha, an Israeli communal farm near the border with Gaza.
In 2006, Hamas and other militant groups used a smuggling tunnel for a cross-border raid in which they killed two Israeli soldiers and seized a third, Gilad Shalit, who was whisked into Gaza and held captive for five years before being released in a prisoner exchange.
‘The determination that rests in the minds and hearts of the resistance fighters is more important than tunnels . . . ’Abu Obaida, Hamas spokesman
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the security forces in remarks at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday.
“This is part of our policy — an aggressive policy against terrorism, including preventive action, intelligence, initiated action, responsive action and, of course, Operation Pillar of Defense,” Netanyahu said, referring to a military offensive in Gaza in November 2012 that Israel said was aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza against southern Israel.
As a result of these measures, he said, Israel had enjoyed its quietest year in more than a decade, although he also pointed to what he said was a rise in terrorist actions in recent weeks.
Hamas has largely observed an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire with Israel that ended the fighting in November.
But the discovery of the tunnel east of Gaza was portrayed locally by Hamas as evidence that it had not dropped armed resistance and that it continued to prepare for the next round of fighting against Israel.
A spokesman for Hamas’s military wing who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Obaida said, “The determination that rests in the minds and hearts of the resistance fighters is more important than tunnels dug in the mud; out of the first, you can make thousands of the second.”
Over the past month, two Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinians in the West Bank, and a 9-year-old girl was lightly wounded in a shooting outside her home in a West Bank settlement. On Friday, an Israeli man was bludgeoned to death in an isolated area of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley.
The Shin Bet security agency said Sunday that with the help of the military and the police, it had arrested three Palestinians from the Hebron area on suspicion of involvement in the killing. It said that two of the suspects, one 18 and the other 21, had confessed to carrying out the killing and that it was investigating whether it was an act of terrorism or a criminal attack.
Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, and since it took power in Gaza, thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel. Israel carried out major military operations in 2009 and last year in Gaza in response to rocket fire. While various militant groups operate in Gaza, Israel says it holds Hamas responsible.