Men from the armed wings of Hamas and allied group Islamic Jihad were killed on Monday when Israel blew up the tunnel, which it claimed was going to be used for attacks on Israeli territory.
Media reports suggest four of those killed were members of Islamic Jihad, and two were members of Hamas. At least three other men were also reported dead. Palestinian Civil Defense continues to search for five men believed still missing in the tunnel.
Nasim Humaid, the head of the emergency department at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa Hospital, told Arab News: “We have received seven bodies since (Monday). All of the men died due to suffocation, either from lack of oxygen or poison gas, we can’t say at this stage the exact cause of the deaths.”
An Israeli military spokesman said Israeli forces had been monitoring the digging of the tunnel for some time and was forced to act after a “grave and unacceptable violation of Israeli sovereignty.” The tunnel reportedly passed under the border fence from the town of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has used tunnels in the past to enter Israel and carry out attacks, but discoveries of those stretching into Israeli territory since the end of the 2014 war have been rare, Agency France Presse (AFP) reported.
The Israeli spokesman claimed the operation was carried out on the Israeli side of the border and stressed that Israel was not seeking further escalation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to AFP, said in a speech on Tuesday that his country would “not tolerate any attacks on our sovereignty, on our people, on our land, whether from the air, from the sea, from the ground, or below the ground.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh appeared at one of the funerals in central Gaza attended by a few thousand people, witnesses said, while senior Hamas figure Khalil Al-Hayya spoke at one in the southern part of the strip.
“(Hamas) knows how to manage conflict with the enemy and how to get revenge and strike at a time and place that hurts the enemy,” Al-Hayya said, according to a statement.
Khaled Al-Batsh, a leader of Islamic Jihad, told Arab News at a funeral in the Burij Camp that the group’s response will be determined by its military wing. He confirmed that its resistance (to Israeli policies) would continue. He said the movement’s effectiveness in Gaza would not diminish despite the deadly incident.
“Our struggle against the occupation has not ended,” Al-Batsh said. “We can’t compromise with our blood (being spilled), and we will not stand silent in front of Zionist aggression.”
Monday’s incident came as rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas attempt to implement their recent reconciliation deal that will end the 10-year rift that left Hamas in charge of the Gaza Strip, said AFP.
Both Haniyeh and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah reaffirmed that the reconciliation remains on track.
“The response to this massacre... is to move forward toward the restoration of national unity, because the enemy realizes our strength is our unity,” Haniyeh said.
Local media reported that Egyptian intelligence is attempting to ensure the cease-fire between Gaza and Israel is maintained.