The Israel Defense Forces expanded its operations in Khan Yunis both above and below ground in the past 24 hours, exposing a vast terror tunnel beneath the southern Gaza City used by Hamas to hold hostages.
“The tunnel was connected to an extensive underground tunnel network beneath a civilian area in the city. Millions of shekels are estimated to have been invested in excavating the tunnel and equipping it with air ventilation systems, electrical supply and plumbing. After investigating the tunnel, it can be confirmed that Israeli hostages had been inside the tunnel,” the IDF said on Thursday morning.
To date, the official number of hostages still being held by Hamas is 136, some of whom are believed to have been killed in captivity. The terror group abducted 240 people during the bloody Oct. 7 rampage across the northwestern Negev in which 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were murdered and thousands more wounded. One hundred and ten hostages, mostly women and children, were released in November as part of a ceasefire agreement.
Hamas’s senior leader in the Strip, Yahya Sinwar, who masterminded the Oct. 7 massacre, is believed to be hiding in the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis, where he has reportedly surrounded himself with a large number of living hostages.
More than 300 tunnel shafts have been located in Khan Yunis since the start of the IDF’s ground operation on Oct. 27, some of which lead to significant tunnels, tactical shafts, weapons storage facilities and combat areas, according to the army.
“So far, more than 100 tunnels have been destroyed and put out of use, in which, among other things, terrorists were eliminated,” the army said.
After two weeks of intense fighting, IDF troops on Wednesday gained control over the southern Gaza town of Khirbat Ikhza’a, a strategic focal point of Hamas terrorist activity near Khan Yunis, the military said.
Located less than a mile from the border with Israel, Khirbat Ikhza’a served as the staging area from which Hamas terrorists attacked the communities of Nir Oz, Nirim and Ein Hashlosha on Oct. 7.
Soldiers of the IDF’s 5th Brigade combat team destroyed Hamas infrastructure and killed dozens of Hamas terrorists during “Operation Oz and Nir,” which was launched in late December. In addition, some 40 attack tunnels were discovered and destroyed, the IDF said.
Nir Oz, a once-thriving community of 400 people, was among the hardest hit on Oct. 7. One in every four residents was either killed or kidnapped.