JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza on Sunday that his country will retaliate with "greater force" than deployed in the 2014 Gaza war if cross-border tunnels are used to attack Israel.
Hamas has built a sophisticated network of tunnels to infiltrate Israel in order to carry out attacks. Israelis living near Gaza have reported hearing tunneling sounds under their homes recently.
"We are operating systematically and calmly against all threats, including those from Hamas, both with defensive and offensive means, and of course in the event we are attacked by tunnels in Gaza we will operate with great force against Hamas, with much greater force than what we used in Operation Protective Edge," Netanyahu said in a speech to diplomats Sunday night, referring to the 50-day war with Gaza gunmen in 2014 by its military name.
"I think that is understood in the region, it's understood in the world. I hope we won't need to do it but our abilities both defensive and offensive are developing rapidly, and I wouldn't recommend anyone to try us," he said.
A senior Hamas leader boasted on Friday that Gaza militants dig tunnels and test rockets to attack Israel "every day." Ismail Haniyeh spoke at the funeral of seven militants who died this week when a tunnel from Gaza to Israel collapsed while they were repairing it. He said the tunnels are a "preparation" for war with Israel and boasted Hamas has "has built tunnels two times more than Vietnam tunnels."
The 2014 Gaza war was sparked by a chain of events stemming from the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank by Hamas gunmen and the kidnapping of a Palestinian teenager who was killed by Israeli extremists in a revenge attack. Israel arrested hundreds of Hamas members in raids in the West Bank, prompting militant groups in Gaza to escalate rocket attacks on Israeli cities.
More than 2,200 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, were killed during the fighting. In Israel, 66 soldiers and seven civilians were killed.
Parts of Gaza were devastated in the fighting.
The war also exposed Israeli communities near Gaza to a new threat: underground Hamas attack tunnels that surfaced close to their homes.
Earlier Sunday, a Palestinian opened fire at a West Bank checkpoint and wounded three soldiers before he was shot and killed by troops, the military said.
Palestinians identified the gunman as Amjad Sukkari, a 34-year-old policeman who worked as a bodyguard for the Palestinian attorney general.
Posts on his Facebook page from just hours before the attacks read "your mourning will be victorious," ''there is nothing worth living for on this earth as long as the occupation strangles our breaths" and "everyday someone dies, I may be the next."
Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers praised the shooting attack, the latest in four months of near-daily Palestinian assaults on Israeli civilians and soldiers.
Also Sunday, the military said a Palestinian attempted to ram his vehicle into soldiers north of Jerusalem. It said troops opened fire wounding the man who was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Palestinians have killed 26 people on the Israeli side and wounded dozens more since mid-September, mostly in stabbings, shootings and vehicular assaults. Israeli fire has killed 150 Palestinians during that time, with 105 identified by Israel as attackers. The rest died in clashes.
Israel says the bloodshed is fueled by a Palestinian campaign of incitement. Palestinians say it stems from despair over nearly 50 years of occupation.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius last week said his country will recognize a Palestinian state if its efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at an international conference fail.
At his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said such a move by the French "will be an incentive for the Palestinians to come and not compromise."
"The substance of negotiations is compromise and the French initiative, as it has been reported, in effect gives the Palestinians in advance reasons not to do so," he said. "We are prepared to enter into direct negotiations without preconditions and without dictated conditions."