An Israeli army officer guides an organised tour of one of the tunnels used by Palestinian militants

Israel to use sensors to detect Gaza tunnel building

Israel is preparing to build a network of sensors to try to detect tunnel building into its territory from the Gaza Strip, according to a senior army officer.

Israeli ground forces were sent into Gaza last month to demolish a warren of underground passages that Hamas Islamists had dug to infiltrate the border. The army said it destroyed 32 of them, but believes some, which also serve as bunkers and weapons caches, survived intact.

After more than a decade of failed attempts to develop ways to reveal the infiltration tunnels, an army officer said the military was preparing to place sensors around Gaza's perimeter.

It could take months to prove the technology works, the source said, but the army hopes these will eventually be able to not only detect tunnels under construction, but also others already built.

In a briefing to reporters, the officer, who declined to be named, said the sensors would be augmented by physical obstacles placed along the 68km-long frontier.

He did not discuss the technology, but said testing over the next few months would show whether it was ready for use. Previous experimentation has focused on seismic detectors.

Underlining Israel's anxiety to overcome the problem, the officer said an Israeli delegation had even travelled to Vietnam in 2002 to try to learn from how the Americans had dealt with guerrilla tunnels during the war in the 1960s and 70s.

The senior commander on Israel's southern front, Major-General Sami Turgeman, said on Monday it might take months before the sensor technology was proven.

"Until then, I propose that every time we discover that the enemy is building a tunnel, we will enter the area and destroy it," Turgeman told Israeli residents near the Gaza border.

Yedidia Yaari, the chief executive officer of Rafael Advanced Weapons Systems, a state-owned firm that produces the Iron Dome missile interceptor, told Channel 2 at the weekend that a solution to the tunnels threat was becoming more real.

"It is not simple to discover tunnels, but it is something that we are finding a solution for, and in my opinion it is close," he said.

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