Israel admits to flooding Hamas tunnels as strikes continue on Gaza city

Tactic to disable infrastructure in enclave was first reported in December

Israeli soldiers inspecting a tunnel in Khan Younis dug by Hamas militants, according to the Israeli army. AFP
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Israel on Tuesday admitted flooding tunnels in Gaza, more than a month after the first reports of seawater being pumped into the Hamas network of passages as the military intensified its offensive in the coastal enclave.

The military said it channelled "large amounts of water" into Hamas tunnels as part of "new capabilities to neutralise underground terrorist infrastructure" in the Gaza Strip.

Army units and the Defence Ministry developed tools "to inject high-flow water" into the tunnels, the military said. A first trial was conducted in December, it added.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the plan in December, with US officials saying the move could not only destroy Hamas's extensive tunnel system but also severely damage Gaza's water supply.

It said the army finished assembling "large seawater pumps" north of the Al Shati refugee camp in central Gaza in mid-November.

Palestinian officials say more than 26,751 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since the war in Gaza began on October 7, prompted by a Hamas attack on southern Israel which killed about 1,200 people.

At least 8,000 others are missing.

The vast majority of the victims are women and children, according to the enclave's health ministry.

Gaza's already fragile infrastructure has all but collapsed in almost four months of war.

More than 700,000 cases of infectious diseases, skin diseases, hepatitis and other illnesses have been recorded in Gaza's displaced population. International organisations have warned of the risk of famine caused by the severely restricted aid provided and the lack of fresh water.

Air strikes on desalination plants and a lack of fuel for pumping stations has left many civilians without potable water.

Israel's attacks on central Gaza have increased in recent days after it pounded the southern city of Khan Younis, where major hospitals remain under siege.

The Israeli army on Wednesday said dozens of Hamas fighters were killed in northern and central Gaza over the past 24 hours.

A child was shot dead by the Israeli army in the vicinity of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city on Tuesday, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported, while air strikes were also reported on the Bureij refugee camp and Deir Al Balah in central Gaza.

The Palestine Red Crescent also raised the alarm over a missing rescue team, who have been unreachable since venturing out to save a six-year-old girl in Gaza city on Monday.

"The fate of Hind and the PRCS ambulance crew that headed out yesterday to rescue her is still unknown. We express deep concern for the safety of our colleagues and Hind," it said.

Hind was the only survivor of an Israeli attack on her family's vehicle, and stayed on the phone with medics for three hours begging to be rescued, according to the PRCS and official Palestinian media.

In the south, the organisation's Al Amal Hospital is still facing Israeli shelling and gunfire.

In a post on platform X- formerly known as Twitter, PRCS said that a security guard was shot standing outside the back door of Al Amal hospital.

The organisation said earlier on Wednesday that "Medical teams, [the] wounded, patients, and thousands of displaced people, primarily children and women, live in constant fear and anxiety."

Updated: January 31, 2024, 10:20 AM