Israel has completed an £800m fence around the Gaza Strip fitted with sensors to detect Hamas tunnel squads, amid rising tensions with Palestinian militant groups who have threatened an “escalation” in the coming weeks.
Over the past three years, Israel’s defence ministry installed radar systems, underground detection systems and command centres along the 40 mile-long border. Their main purpose is to prevent Hamas fighters from digging tunnels into Israeli territory.
At a ceremony to mark its completion earlier this week, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defence minister, said the fence would also stop attempts to cross into Israel via the Mediterranean.
“The barrier, which is an innovative and technologically advanced project, deprives Hamas of one of the capabilities it tried to develop [tunnels], and places an ‘iron wall’, sensors and concrete between the terror organisation and the residents of the Israel’s south,” he said.
While the fence was hailed by Israeli officials as a symbol of security and stability, for Palestinians it is an oppressive reminder of the blockade imposed by Israel in 2007, when the Islamist group Hamas took power in the Gaza strip.
Both Israel and Egypt tightly control the flow of goods and people in and out of the Palestinian enclave, which has two million inhabitants.
‘Palestinian militants threaten escalation’
Some aspects of the new technology are being kept secret on national security grounds, but it is understood that the fence’s sensors detect movement underground which is then relayed to command centres nearby.
“Routine life here [in southern Israel], is our victory, and it is the greatest threat to terrorist organisations. We will continue to maintain our readiness to thwart any attempt to harm Israeli citizens, with an emphasis on rocket attacks from Gaza,” Mr Gantz added.
It came as several Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, threatened an “escalation” with Israel over the blockade, which it said was preventing aid from reaching the territory.
“We are considering options for an escalation with Israel in light of the continued siege of Gaza and the delay in rehabilitating the Strip,” an unnamed Hamas source told the Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera.
“We will not allow the current situation to continue and the next phase will prove the credibility of our words.”
Jerusalem has seen a surge in violence in recent weeks, with a Hamas gunman mounting a terror attack in the Old City in November that killed a 26-year-old Israeli tour guide.
And earlier this week, a Palestinian teenager was arrested over the stabbing of an Israeli mother in the flashpoint district of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
The threat to evict Palestinians from the neighbourhood was a key factor in the outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza in May.
The Gaza fence project required 220,000 truckloads of concrete to be transported to the border area along with around 140,000 tonnes of steel and iron. Several hundred cameras are also installed in the area to detect attempted land crossings by Palestinians from Gaza.
According to Israeli media reports, two Palestinians carrying a knife and a grenade were caught attempting to cross into Israel on Wednesday night, the day after the opening ceremony for the fence.