Hamas’s network of terror tunnels in the Gaza Strip is even more extensive than previously thought, The New York Times cited senior Israeli defense officials as saying on Tuesday, with new assessments indicating it has upwards of 5,700 entry shafts.
In the wake of intensive counterterror combat operations in the southern Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis during recent weeks, Israel now believes the Islamist group built between 350 and 450 miles of subterranean terror infrastructure, up from a previous estimate of 250 miles.
While the figure could not be verified, the Times called Israel’s updated intelligence assessment “extraordinary,” especially given the fact that the Gaza Strip is only some 25 miles long by (at its broadest point) seven miles wide.
In one case cited by the newspaper, Israel Defense Forces soldiers who raided the residence of a Hamas terrorist discovered a spiral staircase leading to a tunnel approximately seven stories deep.
Israeli intelligence found there were about 100 miles of tunnels under the city of Khan Yunis alone, the Times noted.
Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, who masterminded the Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 persons in Israel, is believed to be hiding in Khan Yunis, where he has reportedly surrounded himself with a large number of hostages, preventing the IDF from carrying out an airstrike on his location.
Phase in northern Gaza ‘has concluded‘
On Monday, 80 days after the Jewish state launched its ground offensive, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant signaled the impending end to heavy combat operations in the southern part of Gaza.
“The intensive maneuvering phase in the north of the Gaza Strip has ended, and in the south, it will also end soon,” Gallant said on Monday evening.
“Some three months ago … we specified the stages of implementation and made it clear that the intensive maneuvering phase will last for approximately three months—in the north of the Gaza Strip, this phase has concluded,” the defense minister said.
According to Gallant, “In the south of the Gaza Strip, we will reach this achievement soon, and in both places, the moment will come when we move to the next phase.”
The IDF announced on Tuesday that the undercover counterterror Duvdevan Unit would leave the Strip and redeploy to its regular location in Judea and Samaria.
The announcement came a day after the 36th Division, the IDF’s largest regular-service armored division, which includes the Golani Infantry Brigade, left Gaza for rest and training.
Ahead of their departure, Duvdevan troops raided “dozens” of terror infrastructures in the southernmost part of Khan Yunis, killing a squad of armed terrorists during a firefight, the IDF said on Tuesday.
In addition, soldiers of the Maglan and Egoz special forces units raided the offices of senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders in Khan Yunis, according to the statement. In one office, soldiers discovered a large quantity of guns, ammunition and grenades.
The army also disabled surveillance cameras Hamas used to track the movement of troops in order to target them. Earlier on Tuesday, an Israeli Air Force helicopter struck an “observational device” threatening troops, the IDF said.