JERUSALEM - Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, told reporters that fresh footprints and tools found inside the tunnel from southern Gaza suggested it had been worked on even "in the last few days," and that its design, with many offshoots, made it "the most advanced tunnel that we've exposed." Though the tunnel did not reach an Israeli town or village, Lerner said, "it wasn't that far - a quick sprint and you could attack a community."
Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip, played down the significance of the tunnel - and of Israel's intelligence feat in finding it. A spokesman for its military wing said the tunnel had been exposed by bad weather, which also caused parts of it to collapse.
"This tunnel was unsuitable for use," said the spokesman, who was identified only as Abu Obaida. "This is not a new tunnel, and it was uncovered due to the rainstorm last week. The discovery was not an intelligence achievement, as the enemy tries to promote."
The Israel Defense Forces found three similar tunnels under the Gaza border fence last year, but Lerner described the most recently discovered one as "the most substantial." In 2006, Palestinian militants used a tunnel to enter Israel, kill two soldiers and kidnap a third, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years.
When the last tunnel was discovered, in October, Israel barred construction materials from passing through its Kerem Shalom crossing for anything other than selected international aid projects.