An Israeli air strike killed three people in a Gaza Strip tunnel on Friday, the Islamist group Hamas said, after an overnight gun fight left a fourth Palestinian dead and five Israeli soldiers wounded.
It was the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the coastal enclave since a ceasefire was agreed last November at the end of Israel’s eight-day assault on Gaza.
The Israeli military said its aircraft targeted a tunnel used by fighters to facilitate operations on Israeli targets and accused Hamas, Gaza’s ruling party, of breaching the terms of the ceasefire.
A Hamas source said three of its men were in the tunnel at the time of the attack and died in the blast.
Hours earlier, one Palestinian man was killed and five Israeli soldiers wounded after violence broke out when Israeli forces detonated part of a separate tunnel that they had recently uncovered stretching from Gaza into the Occupied Palestine.
Hamas has said it dug the tunnel. Israel says the underground chamber ran for 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) and was intended to let militants cross deep beneath the border fence and carry out surprise attacks.
But Palestinians deny that tunnels in besieged Gaza are used for cross border attacks, insisting that they are needed to import goods. Israel’s crippling six-year blockade of Gaza has led to shortages of medicine, fuel, construction material and other basic essential.
Hamas on Friday said that Israel’s destruction of its tunnels has led to a shortage of fuel and halted the production of electricity across the Gaza Strip.
“We have completely stopped the operation of (Gaza’s sole) power plant this morning at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) because we don’t have a single liter of fuel,” Fathi el-Sheikh Khalil, the authority’s deputy chairman, told AFP.
An AFP correspondent in the Gaza Strip said the electricity supply had been cut off across most of the territory on Friday morning.
Khali also accused the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of charging Hamas too much for its fuel.
“Less than 50 percent of the needs of the Gaza Strip are currently covered by electricity from Israel (and) we can no longer get Egyptian fuel due to the destruction of tunnels from Egypt,” he said.
“We tried to get fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority, but it has imposed prohibitive taxes.”
The Gaza plant supplies about a third of the territory’s electricity needs.
“The plant will remain shut until fuel supplies resume from Egypt through the tunnels or the Rafah border crossing, or from Israel if the Palestinian Authority agrees not to impose the heavy taxes,” said Khalil.
In September, the Gaza energy authority warned of an impending shortage of fuel and called on Egypt to resume deliveries to the strip.