Four Palestinian militants were killed and five Israeli soldiers were injured in the Gaza Strip on Thursday night as Israel moved to destroy two tunnels found running from Gaza to Israel.
The five Israeli soldiers were wounded as they worked on destroying the entrance to a Palestinian-built tunnel near the town of Khan Younis. Palestinians detonated a bomb near the soldiers. One Palestinian fighter was killed when an Israeli tank returned fire.
The Israeli military found the concrete-lined tunnel in October. It runs nearly a mile from a house in Hamas-controlled Gaza to a site close to the Ein Hashlosha kibbutz in Israel.
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"This mission [to dismantle the tunnel] was imperative due to the potential to utilize the terror tunnel for future attacks against Israeli civilians," Israel Defence Forces spokesman Lt. Col Peter Lerner said.
A few hours later, three Palestinians, identified as members of Hamas armed wing the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, died inside another tunnel when Israeli aircraft bombed it.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Friday that the militants at the tunnel near Khan Younis "gave a painful lesson" to Israel. "Gaza will be the land of hell" for Israel, he added.
The violence is the deadliest in Gaza since last November.