(JNS) Israel Defense Forces soldiers operating in the heart of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza discovered a large tunnel, one where Hamas had held a around a dozen hostages, the military revealed on Wednesday.
Troops from the IDF's 98th Division, working alongside combat engineers from the elite Yahalom unit, located the approximately 1,000-yard-long tunnel while exploring an underground labyrinth composed of numerous branches.
On January 21, the IDF announced that the 98th Division unearthed and destroyed a nearby tunnel branch of similar size. There, some 20 hostages had been kept in a central chamber that included five prison cells.
The newly-discovered tunnel likewise contained a chamber that included barred prison cells, as well as bathrooms and a space used by Hamas guards. The IDF noted that three of the approximately 12 hostages who were kept in the newly discovered Khan Yunis tunnel have since "returned to Israel."
As part of the operation, 98th Division and Yahalom troops "fought in the tunnel against terrorists, broke through the blast doors and neutralized explosives," the military said, adding that forces also seized weapons and documents related to Hamas operations.
The tunnel cost "millions of shekels" to construct, according to the IDF. Behind the its concrete walls, soldiers found sacks belonging to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
According to official figures, 136 hostages remain in Gaza. At least 32 of the remaining captives are confirmed to have died, The New York Times reported earlier this week, citing Israeli military officials.
Hamas abducted more than 240 people during its bloody rampage across the northwestern Negev, in which some 1,200 people were murdered and thousands more wounded.
One hundred five hostages, mostly women and children, were released last year as part of a ceasefire deal that Hamas broke when it refused to hand over the last group of captives.
Last month, the Times reported that Hamas's tunnel network was more extensive than previously thought, with new assessments indicating it has upwards of 5,700 entry shafts.
Following intensive combat in Khan Yunis during recent weeks, Israel now believes Hamas built between 350 and 450 miles of subterranean infrastructure, up from a previous estimate of 250 miles.
The IDF has damaged or rendered inoperable some 20% to 40% of Hamas's tunnel infrastructure in Gaza, according to a Wall Street Journal report published on January 28 that cited Israeli and U.S. officials.