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Israeli forces seek, destroy Gaza tunnels

Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli bulldozers demolished more than a dozen tunnels Saturday in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian authorities reported intensified airstrikes and shelling as the death toll from Israel's ground offensive rose to at least 342 Palestinians. Diplomats struggled to revive a cease-fire.

Israeli soldiers uncovered 34 shafts leading into about a dozen underground tunnels, some as deep as 30 yards, that could be used to carry out attacks, the military said.

Still, Palestinian gunmen disguised in Israeli uniforms managed to infiltrate Israel from Gaza using another tunnel and on Saturday killed two Israeli soldiers and injured several others, the military said. At least one Palestinian was killed in the clash.

Hamas said 12 of its fighters participated in the attack and that the group took some of the soldiers' weapons back to their hideouts.

In two other confrontations, Palestinian gunmen jumped out of tunnels and shot at soldiers who returned fire. Two of the gunmen were killed. Another militant died when the explosive vest he was wearing went off, the military said.

In one instance, the militants were found with tranquilizers and handcuffs, indicating they "intended to abduct Israelis," according to the military.

It was the second day that Palestinians used their network of underground tunnels to penetrate Israel in the current round of fighting. Israel embarked on its ground offensive in part to seek and destroy the tunnels on Thursday, the same day 13 heavily armed Palestinians sneaked through a tunnel from Gaza and emerged inside Israel near a southern community. The militants were killed by an airstrike after they popped out of the tunnel.

Clashes persisted into late Saturday, with heavy fighting reported in several parts of Gaza.

Shimon Daniel, a retired brigadier general and former head of the Israeli military's engineer corps, said the military knew that Hamas had a large number of tunnels designed to assault Israel.

"I think finding 13 tunnels in such a short time is a great achievement," he told Channel 10 TV.

He said demolishing the tunnels is dangerous. Troops must assume the passages are booby trapped. Soldiers first close off the area and check for additional openings. Then robots go inside to look around, he said.

After that, the tunnels are destroyed either by special explosives or by heavy equipment. He said it can take up to 12 hours to destroy each tunnel.

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