JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's army said on Sunday (Apr 15) that it had destroyed a Hamas tunnel crossing from the Gaza Strip into its territory after more than two weeks of tension along the border of the Palestinian enclave.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said it was the longest and deepest Gazan tunnel discovered by Israel.
The tunnel crossed into Israeli territory by several metres but did not yet have an exit point, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists.
Israel destroyed the tunnel, which it said connected to several others within Gaza and could have been used for attacks, by filling it with material to make it inoperative.
"We filled the tunnel with material that renders it useless for a very long period of time," Mr Conricus said. Explosives were not used.
"According to our early assessments, this tunnel reaches kilometres, several kilometres, into the Gaza Strip."
The tunnel came from the area of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip and was being dug in the direction of the Nahal Oz community in Israel, he said.
It was the fifth Gazan tunnel destroyed by Israel in recent months, Mr Conricus said. Israel destroyed it over the course of the weekend.
The operation comes after protests along the Gaza border since March 30 that have led to clashes in which Israeli forces have killed 34 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others.
Israel alleges that Hamas is seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence and said the tunnel destroyed could have been used for that purpose, saying it comes from near an area where demonstrators have gathered.
Israel has faced criticism over its use of live fire along the Gaza border since March 30, while the European Union and United Nations chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation.
The military says its soldiers act to stop attacks, damage to the fence and infiltration bids, and says there have been attempts at all three.
Mr Conricus said Israel had been monitoring the construction of the tunnel for some time.
He said Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, began building it after the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas.
Israel has fought three wars with the Islamist movement Hamas since 2008, and the group has used tunnels to carry out attacks in the past.
Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade, while its border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.
Israel has also been building an underground wall around the Gaza Strip to stop tunnel infiltrations.