Israel declares ‘tactical control’ over strategic Gaza corridor bordering Egypt

The Israeli military said late Wednesday it had taken “tactical control” over the Philadelphia Corridor – a sensitive strip of Gaza along its border with Egypt – in a move that could further tax Israel’s already strained ties with Cairo.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said the area was “the oxygen tube of Hamas” and had been used by the Palestinian armed group to “smuggle ammunition into Gaza territory on a regular basis.” He said Hamas had also built tunnels near the Egyptian border, calculating that Israel would not dare attack so close to Egyptian territory.

Israeli officials have said that seizing the narrow zone, about 14 kilometers long, is crucially important to prevent Hamas from rearming through cross-border smuggling. “It must be in our hands; it must be closed,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told reporters in December, after being asked whether Israel still intended to capture the area.

An Israeli military official, who briefed reporters Wednesday on condition of anonymity to comply with military protocol, said troops had identified at least 20 tunnels leading from Gaza into Egypt, some of them discovered recently.

But briefing reporters later Wednesday night, Admiral Hagari stopped short of saying the tunnels crossed the border.

“I can’t say now that all these tunnels cross into Egypt,” he said. “We will inspect it and pass the intelligence information” to Egypt. The tunnels in Gaza “are located near the border with Egypt, including in buildings and houses,” she added. “We will investigate and address each of those wells.”

Following the Israeli announcement, Egyptian state news channel Al-Qahera quoted an unnamed senior official as saying there is “no truth” about the claims about tunnels under the border.

“These lies reflect the magnitude of the crisis facing the Israeli government,” the official said, adding: “Israel continues its attempts to export lies about the conditions on the ground of its forces in Rafah to conceal its military failure and find a solution.” way out of their political crisis.”

Egypt has previously warned that an Israeli occupation of the border corridor would represent a “serious threat to Egyptian-Israeli relations.” On Monday, at least one Egyptian soldier was killed in a shootout with Israeli forces near the Rafah crossing; Both sides have said they are investigating the matter.

Israeli troops are not present everywhere in the Philadelphia Corridor, the Israeli military official said, but they now had the ability to effectively cut off Hamas’s ability to move through tunnels under and near the border. During the operation, Israeli troops destroyed a network of tunnels that ran nearly a mile underground in eastern Rafah, Admiral Hagari said.

Egypt’s government has disputed that cross-border tunnels are a problem, saying its own forces have removed them in recent years.

“Israel uses these accusations to justify the continuation of the Rafah operation and the prolongation of the war for political purposes,” he said.

A limited number of Israeli forces had also been deployed in the Tel al-Sultan area in western Rafah, the official said. It is the deepest advance towards the city of Rafah confirmed by Israel since it began its ground offensive there in early May.

Egypt and Israel have blamed each other over who is responsible for the continued closure of the Rafah crossing, a key conduit for bringing aid to Gaza and allowing the sick and injured to leave. Israeli troops captured the crossing on May 6 and Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian officials have been unable to reach an agreement to resume operations there.

Emad Mekay and Johnatan Reiss contributed with reports.

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