While linking the event to the defense establishment's decision to halt IDF security arrangements near Gaza vicinity communities, the residents stressed that "there are still threats" that require reliable and professional forces.
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"There has been no improvement when it comes to the threats from Gaza," said Head of Shaar Hanegev Regional Council Alon Shuster. "The presence of the soldiers and security forces is meant to address ground threats, and today it was proven to us they still exist, therefore the decision to cancel the security of the communities is wrong. In emergency situations, such as the penetration of a terrorist into a village, the first and most useful response is that of the soldiers securing the area, and with the absence of that, the villages are at risk."
The security chief of one of the area's villages joined Shuster's remarks and complained that "for unclear reasons, there is a feeling among decision-makers that the situation is calm in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli communities near it, and that is a most serious mistake. I assume it is because the amount of rockets fired from Gaza has decreased, but the threats still remain. We are at the line of fire, even if it seems to others that everything is calm."
Even though the uncovering of the tunnel was kept secret during the past few days, parents in the area still had to explain to their children about its consequences.
"It's easier to talk to children about Qassam (rockets)," one of the mothers admitted. "It just raises an exceptional fear in them. Children immediately imagine a terrorist jumping out of a hole and shooting everywhere. It is an indescribable fear, worse than when a siren is heard. The element of surprise is even scarier. When a Qassam is fired there are 20 seconds to run for shelter, but a tunnel – who knows when a terrorist might jump out of it?"
Alon, another parent in a community near the exposed tunnel, said he was not surprised by the event and added that he "always knew they're not just sitting there, playing backgammon at ease. They're digging, and digging, and digging."
Meirav, another parent in the area, explained that the phenomenon "exists under the surface," and that the residents of the area have become accustomed to living with the risks.
"I want to stress that (the tunnel) was not on kibbutz property. It was not by the kindergarten, but closer to the (border) fence, about 2-3 km (1.2-1.8 miles) away from the community," said Danny Cohen, head of the kibbutz's emergency team. "We are carrying on as usual. We have lived with this reality for quite some time. It's not new to us and does not surprise us."
At the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised IDF soldiers for exposing the terror tunnel: "This is part of our policy, an aggressive policy against terror through thwarting, intelligence, initiated and responsive operations, and of course Operation Pillar of Defense. The combination of all these activities and our policy brought forth the calmest year in over a decade. However, we still see an increase in terrorist activity in recent weeks."
According to defense establishment estimates, the tunnel was set up in order to execute a large-scale attack on one of the nearby villages. The starting point is located in a village between Gaza Strip's Khan Younis and the border fence. Several spaces were located within the tunnel, which were designed to store and detonate explosives in large quantities. The tunnel also contained tracks with carts and lighting tools. In addition, the tunnel contained advanced technical means to allow its functioning and prevent its collapse.
Following the exposure, council heads in the Gaza vicinity area called on the government to withdraw a plan to stop providing military security to the area's communities. "These are bizarre decisions that are out of touch with reality," said Shaar Hanegev Council head Alon Shuster..
The decision to halt securing viilages in the vicinity of the northern and southern borders – 13 villages near Gaza and Egypt, and nine villages on the Lebanese border – will not affect the security of settlements in the West Bank. The decision has been pushed back by a month.
Matan Tzuri contributed to this report
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