Israel destroys ‘unique’ Hamas tunnel extending into Israel via Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel destroys ‘unique’ Hamas tunnel extending into Israel via Egypt

Army strikes in Gaza seal off tunnel — intended for both smuggling and attacks according to IDF — that reached 900 meters into Israel

The Israeli army on Tuesday afternoon struck what it said was a Hamas tunnel in the Gaza Strip that extended hundreds of meters into Egyptian and Israeli territory.

The IDF said the U-shaped attack tunnel destroyed near Rafah and the Kerem Shalom border crossing was still under construction and not yet usable.

The military said the tunnel crossed from Gaza into Egypt and from there into southern Israel, and was intended both for smuggling weapons and for attacks against Israel.

Its full length was around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles), the army said, and the segment inside Israeli territory was 900 meters (half a mile) long.

The military discovered the tunnel in the past two weeks, an army spokesperson said.

The army called the tunnel’s design “unique.”

“This is a very long tunnel,” a source told the Ynet news site. “It also had exit shafts on the Egyptian side. The tunnel was dealt with using airstrikes [in Gaza], and in the coming hours will also be taken care of on our side to neutralize it entirely.”

Israeli officials reportedly informed Egyptian counterparts of the planned strike on the tunnel, according to Hebrew-language media. It was not clear if Israeli strikes on the tunnel included action over the border in Egypt.

A map handed out by the Israeli military showing the apparent route of a Hamas tunnel that extended from Gaza to Israel and Egypt, and destroyed by Israel on May 29. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The destruction of the tunnels came as Israeli planes pounded Gaza in response to a morning barrage of mortar fire, including one shell that landed in a kindergarten playground shortly before children were due to arrive.

The IDF said it struck over 35 terror targets in Gaza throughout the day, belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These included weapons caches, naval targets and terror headquarters, the IDF said.

A picture taken from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018, shows smoke billowing over buildings following an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian enclave. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

Hamas identified one of the targets as a training facility.

Some 28 mortar shells and rockets were fired into Israel by Palestinian terror groups Tuesday morning, and media reported dozens more in the afternoon following the strikes.

Three Israeli soldiers were lightly injured from shrapnel in the afternoon attacks.

The military said a total of 25 projectiles had been knocked down by Iron Dome missile defense batteries as of 4 p.m., though the tally was not official.

The morning attacks were mounted by the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, apparently in revenge for the IDF killing three of its members in a cross-border exchange earlier in the week.

In a statement, Islamic Jihad described its assault as “a blessed response of the resistance,” adding, “our people’s blood is not cheap.”

The Israeli military, however, ultimately blamed the barrages on the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, saying the barrages were the result of the organization’s “failures” to successfully attack Israel during the recent riots along the border.

There was no claim of responsibility for the afternoon barrage. As a matter of policy, the Israeli army considers Hamas, which rules Gaza, to be responsible for any attack emanating from the beleaguered coastal enclave.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to respond “with great force” to the mortar shells, one of which landed just outside a kindergarten less than an hour before children were due to arrive.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the military had launched a “massive and forceful” retaliatory attack.

Defense officials reportedly said the next 24 hours would be “intense” amid the worst escalation on the Gaza border since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

The army evacuated the Zikim beach near Gaza, while local authorities in the region told residents to stay near their bomb shelters in the coming hours.

An Israeli soldier takes cover as rocket sirens blare in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Israel views the attacks on it and on its communities by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip with great severity,” Netanyahu said earlier, during a conference in the northern Galilee region, ahead of urgent security consultations set to take place later in the day.

“The IDF will retaliate with great force to these attacks,” the prime minister added. “Israel will make anyone trying to harm it pay a heavy price, and we view Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks against us.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier called a “special situational assessment” at army’s Tel Aviv headquarters with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior figures from Israel’s security services, his office said.

Judah Ari Gross and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

State Department’s new undersecretary was in a Gaza tunnel when boss was fired

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

State Department’s new undersecretary was in a Gaza tunnel when boss was fired

Sidelined by Tillerson, whose firing caught her in a terror tunnel during a trip to Israel, Heather Nauert now finds herself nearly atop Foggy Bottom

Then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the ax fell on US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his spokeswoman was half a world away, a distance he and his inner circle preferred and enforced.

Now, it’s Tillerson who’s on his way out after his unceremonious firing by President Donald Trump, and Heather Nauert whose star is ascendant.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Nauert are among the few women in the Trump administration with high-profile voices on foreign policy. Only three State Department officials — all men — now outrank Nauert, a former Fox News anchor who declined comment for this story.

Nauert’s meteoric rise comes even though just a week ago she seemed not long for the job. Then Tillerson lost his.

US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint press conference with Jordanian foreign minister in Amman on February 14, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)

She was denied the kind of close access to the boss that all recent successful State Department press secretaries enjoyed. So Nauert tried to defend Trump’s top diplomat and explain his activities to reporters from around the world without being able to travel on any of Tillerson’s international trips or attend most of his Washington meetings.

Frustrated at being sidelined, Nauert almost quit several times. She had been telling associates she was ready to move on.

The moment that Trump canned Tillerson by tweet, Nauert was in a Hamas-built tunnel on the border near the Gaza Strip, on a tour organized by the Israeli military to show US officials the smuggling routes used by militants. Caught by surprise by the move back in Washington, Nauert and the rest of the delegation cut the tour short and returned to Jerusalem to deal with the crisis. Soon, Trump also fired the undersecretary of state who publicly defended Tillerson.

Palestinian terrorists from the Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel, used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip, on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The president named Nauert to that suddenly vacant position, near the top of the hierarchy of American diplomacy.

Nauert told associates she was taken aback and recommended a colleague for the job. But when White House officials told her they wanted her, she accepted.

The new role gives Nauert responsibilities far beyond the regular news conferences she held in the briefing room. She is overseeing the public diplomacy in Washington and all of the roughly 275 overseas US embassies, consulates and other posts. She is in charge of the Global Engagement Center that fights extremist messaging from the Islamic State group and others. She can take a seat, if she wants, on the Broadcasting Board of Governors that steers government broadcast networks such as Voice of America.

Less than a year ago, Nauert wasn’t even in government.

Nauert, who was born in Illinois, was a breaking news anchor on Trump’s favorite television show, “Fox & Friends,” when she was tapped to be the face and voice of the administration’s foreign policy. With a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she had come to Fox from ABC News, where she was a general assignment reporter. She hadn’t specialized in foreign policy or international relations.

It was almost clear from the start that Nauert wasn’t Tillerson’s first choice.

She resisted the ex-oilman’s efforts to limit press access, reduce briefings and limit journalists allowed to travel with him. Tillerson had preferred Genevieve Wood at the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to several individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss Tillerson’s personnel decisions.

When Nauert arrived at the State Department in April 2017, she found relations between Tillerson and the diplomatic press corps in crisis. No longer were there daily briefings that had been a State Department feature for decades. Journalists accustomed to traveling with Republican and Democratic secretaries for decades found they were blocked from Tillerson’s plane. Department spokespeople had no regular access to Tillerson or his top advisers.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Shut out from the top, Nauert developed relationships with career diplomats. Barred from traveling with Tillerson, she embarked on her own overseas trips, visiting Bangladesh and Myanmar last year to see the plight of Rohingya Muslims, and then Israel, after a planned stop in Syria was scrapped. Limited to two briefings a week, she began hosting a program called “The Readout” on State Department social media outlets in which she interviewed senior officials about topics of the day.

All the while, she stayed in the good graces of the White House, even as Tillerson was increasingly on the outs. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders described Nauert as “a team player” and “a strong asset for the administration.”

Sarah Sanders speaks during the daily briefing at the White House, on March 12, 2018, in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO)

And she didn’t shy from taking on foreign foes.

“The idea that Russia is calling for a so-called humanitarian corridor, I want to be clear, is a joke,” Nauert said at one recent briefing where she took Moscow to task for its actions in Syria, where it has used military power to support President Bashar Assad’s government.

Such comments have earned her the wrath of Kremlin officials and state-run media. Faced with pointed questioning by reporters from Russian news outlets at her briefings, Nauert often has lashed out, accusing them of working for their government.

“You’re from Russian TV, too. OK. So hey, enough said then. I’ll move on,” Nauert told a reporter last month after Russian President Vladimir Putin presented an animated film clip showing a missile headed toward the US

The comment sparked an intercontinental war-of-spokeswomen.

“If the StateDept dares to shun our journalists alongside with calling them Russian journalists one more time, we will carry our promise. We will create special seats for so called ‘US journalists,’” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tweeted.

It didn’t end there.

First, the Russian Embassy in Washington congratulated Nauert “and, of course, all female employees” of the State Department on International Women’s Day. Nauert responded with gratitude and a dig, saying Moscow should use the day to “live up to its international commitments & stop bombing innocent men, women & children in #Syria.”

READ MORE: