Israeli forces capture 'arms smuggling' corridor along Gaza-Egypt border

The Israeli military said that its armored forces had gained control of Gaza's so-called Philadelphi Corridor, a strategically key buffer zone that runs along the eight-mile border between southern Gaza and Egypt that it says served as a Hamas "lifeline. File Photo by Jim Hollander/UPI

May 30 (UPI) -- The Israeli military said its forces have gained control of Gaza's so-called Philadelphi Corridor, a buffer zone that runs along the eight-mile border between southern Gaza and Egypt that it says served as a Hamas "lifeline."

The operation by the Israel Defense Forces' 162nd armored division as part of its ongoing offensive in Rafah captured 20 tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle weapons into Gaza and dozens of launch pits with loaded rocket launchers used to bombard Israeli territory, IDF Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a Wednesday night news briefing.

"Hamas exploited the Philadelphi Corridor, using it to build this infrastructure just dozens of meters from the border with Egypt so that we would not strike them. This infrastructure was located between 10 and 40 meters from the border, specifically so that Israel would not strike near the fence with Egypt.

"I remind you that in recent weeks, Hamas has fired about 70 rockets and mortars from the Rafah area."

Capturing the corridor means Israel now controls all of Gaza's land borders.

Hagari refused to confirm an off-the-record comment by one of his colleagues stating that the tunnels straddled the border with Egypt.

"I can't say now that all of these tunnels cross into Egypt," he said, explaining that troops were "investigating and neutralizing" the tunnels as they went along and that the intelligence would be shared with Egypt.

Egyptian media quoted sources rejecting the cross-border tunnel claims and accusing Israel of attempting to legitimize its military operation in Rafah and drag out the conflict for domestic "political purposes."

"These lies reflect the magnitude of the crisis facing the Israeli government," the official said.

"Israel continues its attempts to export lies about on-the-ground conditions for its forces in Rafah in order to obscure its military failure and to find an escape for its political crisis."

Egypt has previously said the smuggling of weapons into Gaza was impossible because it had destroyed tunnels connecting to its territory.

The tunnels row erupted as Israel named four soldiers killed in combat operations over the past two nights in the Dahaniya district of Rafah and northern Gaza as Staff Sgt. Amir Galilov; Staff Sgt. Uri Bar Or; Staff. Sgt. Ido Appel; and Staff Sgt. Yedidya Azugi.

The Israeli government said 293 military personnel have been killed and 1,831 wounded since it launched its ground operations in Gaza on Oct. 27.

The latest update from Gaza's Health Ministry reports at least 75 people were killed and 284 injured due to Israeli military action in the 24 hour period to noon Wednesday, bringing the total number killed since Oct. 7 to 36,171 and 81,420 injured.