Israel Says It Has ‘Tactical Control’ of Gaza Corridor Bordering Egypt

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The Israeli military said on Wednesday night that it had taken “tactical control” over the Philadelphi 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 Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, said the zone was “Hamas’s oxygen tube” and had been used by the Palestinian armed group for “smuggling munitions into Gazan territory on a regular basis.” He said that Hamas had also built tunnels near the Egyptian border, calculating that Israel would not dare strike so close to Egyptian territory.

Israeli officials have said seizing the narrow, roughly 9-mile-long area holds crucial importance for preventing Hamas from rearming itself 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 zone.

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

But in briefing reporters later on Wednesday night, Admiral Hagari stopped short of claiming that the tunnels crossed the border.

“I can’t say now that all of these tunnels cross into Egypt,” he said. “We’ll inspect that, pass along the intelligence” to Egypt. The tunnel shafts in Gaza “are located in proximity to the border with Egypt, including in buildings and homes,” he added. “We’ll investigate and take care of each of those shafts.”

After the Israeli announcement, Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera News channel quoted an unnamed senior official saying “there is no truth” to claims of 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 on-the-ground conditions for its forces in Rafah in order to obscure its military failure and to find an escape for its political crisis.”

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

Israeli troops are not present everywhere in the Philadelphi 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 tunnel network that ran for nearly a mile underground in eastern Rafah, Admiral Hagari said.

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

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

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

Egypt and Israel have traded blame over who is responsible for the continued closure of the Rafah crossing, a key conduit for bringing aid into Gaza and allowing the sick and wounded to leave. Israeli troops captured the crossing on May 6 and Israeli, Egyptian and Palestinian officials have been unable to strike a deal to resume operations there.

Emad Mekay and Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.



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