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Israel’s military says it’s taken control of strategic corridor

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military said Wednesday it seized control of a strategic corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt to cut off smuggling tunnels as it tries to destroy the Hamas terrorist group in a war that is now in its eighth month.

The capture of the Philadelphi Corridor could complicate Israel’s relations with Egypt. Israel says the corridor is awash in tunnels that have funneled weapons and other goods for Hamas terrorists — even under a yearslong blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Israel also deepened its incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The military said that a fifth brigade — up to several thousand soldiers — joined troops operating in the city on Tuesday.

Earlier Wednesday, a top Israeli official said Israel’s war with Hamas is likely to last through the end of the year.

The war began when Hamas and other terrorists burst into southern Israel in a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. More than 100 were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israel’s offensive in response to the attack has killed at least 36,096 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its count. Israel says it has killed 15,000 terrorists.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told Kan public radio that he was “expecting another seven months of fighting” to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

“The army is achieving its objectives,” but it has said from the start that the “war will be long,” he said. “They have designated 2024 as a year of war.”

Egypt has said that any increase in troops in the strategic Philadelphi Corridor would violate the countries’ 1979 peace accord. It already has complained about Israel taking over the Rafah border crossing, the only crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

“The Philadelphi Corridor served as the oxygen line of Hamas through which Hamas carried out weapons smuggling into Gaza on a regular basis,” said the military’s chief spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations, said Israel had notified Egypt of the takeover. He said some 20 tunnels, including some that were previously unknown to Israel, had been found during the operation, as well as 82 access points to those tunnels.

The corridor is part of a larger demilitarized zone along both sides of the entire Israel-Egypt border.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera News TV reported that there are “no communications with the Israeli side” on the allegations of finding tunnels on the borders. Egypt has repeatedly expressed concerns that the Israeli offensive could push Palestinians across the border — a scenario Egypt says is unacceptable.

The narrow corridor — a little more than 100 yards wide in parts — runs the 8.6-mile length of the Gaza side of the border with Egypt and includes the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

Hamas has had free rein of the border since its 2007 takeover of Gaza.

Smuggling tunnels were dug under the Gaza-Egypt border to get around the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after Hamas took over with the aim of preventing it from building up its military stockpile. Some of the tunnels were massive, large enough for vehicles. Hamas brought in weapons and supplies, and Gaza residents smuggled in commercial goods, from livestock to construction materials.

That changed over the past decade, as Egypt battled Islamic terrorists in Sinai. The Egyptian military cracked down on the tunnels and destroyed hundreds of them, saying they were being used to transfer weapons into the Sinai Peninsula.

The Israeli military official said Israel has also taken “tactical control” of Tel al-Sultan, a neighborhood on Rafah’s northwest edge. But he said the incursion into the city remains a “limited scope and scale operation.”

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