Israel holds bodies of five militants after tunnel blast

A military statement said that since the tunnel was blown up, forces had worked in Israeli territory to complete the destruction and that “during the ongoing work in the area, the bodies of five terrorists were uncovered”.

On Friday, the Islamic Jihad militant group had reported five of its militants were missing.

The bodies of seven other militants were recovered on the Gaza side of the frontier after the blast, raising the death toll to 12.

Israel said earlier this year it would withhold the bodies of Palestinian militants killed in attacks against its citizens in order to pressure the larger Islamist Hamas faction to return the remains of soldiers and hand back missing Israeli civilians.

Hamas says it is holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war. The group also says it is holding two Israeli civilians who strayed into the territory.

Simha Goldin, the father of one of the two Israeli soldiers, urged the Israeli government to live up to its promise.

“Pressure will make Hamas understand that holding Israeli soldiers is not an asset but a burden,” he said.

Militants refuse to deal

Both militant groups, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, have refused to discuss any deal with Israel and warned of increased hostility.

“We are committed to regaining the bodies of our comrades and we will find a way to compel the enemy to do this,” said Dawoud Shehab, an Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza.

During the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels in the face of Israel’s superior forces and threatened civilian communities near the frontier.

It countered the effectiveness of Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect the country’s heartland from militant rocket barrages.

Neither Israel nor militants in Gaza have appeared eager to seek escalation.

Israel is constructing a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-kilometre Gaza border, aiming to complete the $US1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) project by mid-2019.

Israel and the United States have called for Hamas to be disarmed as part of the recent pact between Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

It argues this would re-start peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which collapsed in 2014. Hamas has rejected the demand.

Hamas accused Israel of trying to “sabotage efforts to repair Palestinian unity”, referring to the reconciliation agreement forged last month, in which the Palestinian Authority will take over administration of the Gaza territory in December.



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