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Israel: Secret Gaza tunnel found

Passage toward Israel is first to be discovered since Gaza pullout

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A tunnel leading from Gaza toward Israel has been discovered, the first since the Israeli military withdrew from Gaza over the summer, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday.

The tunnel, described as several meters deep and about 20 meters long, was found Friday afternoon during engineering work north of Gaza.

"Terror organizations had intended to use the tunnel in order to infiltrate Israel and carry out terror attacks within the country," the IDF statement said.

The tunnel shaft near the Erez security crossing connected to a path leading to a garbage dump. From there, the IDF said, "terrorists" intended to "enter the tunnel and infiltrate Israel."

The military says it would use controlled explosives to "render the tunnel useless."

Meanwhile, Israeli officials clarified their position about the flow of legitimate goods across the boundary between Gaza and Israel.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel may consider changing the status of Gaza crossing points if the Palestinian Authority did not take action against militant groups.

But, spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said, Israel does not intend to place Gaza under economic siege by closing the crossings.

Israeli media had reported a threat to limit the flow of goods across the boundary.

If Gaza's Karni and Erez crossings were given international-border status, Gissin said, Palestinian exports into Israel would be significantly slowed as a consequence.

The Israeli Cabinet will discuss the issue during its weekly meeting on Sunday, Gissin said.

On Friday, Israel's Channel 2 reported that Israel's defense chief, Shaul Mofaz, was considering closing the crossings.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Friday at a rally in Damascus that the radical Palestinian group had had enough of the agreement it made with the Palestinian Authority to maintain "quiet" with Israel. (Full story)

Hamas was among several militant groups that agreed to cooperate by not attacking Israel. That agreement, brokered by Egypt, has been honored for the past nine months, and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said the pact should continue.

But violence persists. A suicide bomber blew himself up last Monday at a mall in Netanya, killing five Israelis, a day after Israel said it was resuming targeted air strikes in retaliation for Palestinian missile attacks launched from Gaza.

Islamic Jihad, another militant group, claimed responsibility for the Netanya bombing. Israel arrested members of the family of the bomber, and in the days since the bombing Israeli attacks have killed four Palestinian militants in two targeted strikes in Gaza.

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