Israel digs deep to thwart tunnel threat from Gaza Strip

An entrance to what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel, is seen on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip border near Kissufim January 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 18 January 2018
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Israel digs deep to thwart tunnel threat from Gaza Strip

KISSUFIM: Massive earthworks and mounds of sandy soil line the Israel-Gaza border as the Israeli military forges ahead with an ambitious subterranean barrier to detect and prevent attack tunnels from reaching southern Israel from the Palestinian enclave.
Israeli military officials on Thursday touted the secretive project as a major deterrent against what Israel has seen as a strategic threat since the last war against Hamas exposed the extent of the tunnels. Israel has made uncovering the tunnels from Gaza a priority and in recent months has demolished at least three through a combination of intelligence, infantry operations and hi-tech sensors.
Israel began construction of a 40-mile long underground wall last summer, aiming to prevent Palestinian militants from burrowing toward Israeli communities along the border.
“The technology really is groundbreaking,” Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said in a briefing with journalists on the border with the Gaza Strip. “The message to Hamas is: ‘We now have this system which can detect and destroy terror tunnels that violate Israeli sovereignty.’“
Conricus said that the anti-tunnel barrier under construction “provides a significant challenge for anyone tunneling below,” without elaborating.
Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, have fought three wars since 2008. During the most recent conflict in 2014, Hamas militants on several occasions caught Israel off guard by attacking through the underground tunnel network.
While Hamas fighters did not manage to reach Israeli civilian centers, five Israeli soldiers were killed in such attacks, which rattled the Israeli public. Israel destroyed 32 tunnels during that conflict, and has prioritized anti-tunnel operations since.
Excavating machines, concrete mixers and hundreds of workers toil furiously as part of Israel’s deadly underground game of cat and mouse with the Gaza militants.
The barrier — hundreds of feet below ground, studded with sensors and topped by a 26-foot metal fence — has an estimated price tag of $700 million and is on track for its slated completion in mid-2019, a senior Israeli military official said Thursday. Thus far, crews working 24 hours a day, six days a week have completed 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of the 64-kilometer (40-mile) border barrier.
Wary of tipping off enemies, Israeli military officials were reticent to discuss particulars concerning the barrier’s tunnel detection capabilities, or precisely how far into the earth the wall goes.
“It’s deep enough,” a senior Israeli military official said. Cranes hoisted 25-meter-long rebar cages into the air, and the official said “several get welded together” to form the concrete wall’s reinforced spine.
Thus far, Hamas has not tried to disrupt construction, and giant earth berms protect workers from spying eyes and small arms fire. A senior Israeli military official said that while neither side wants to start a new round of violence, minor incidents along the border had the potential to snowball into a larger conflict quickly.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The military on Thursday also showcased a tunnel destroyed in late October — its demolition left a dozen militants dead.
The meter-wide concrete-lined shaft penetrated hundreds of yards into southern Israel toward nearby Kibbutz Kissufim. Its destruction prompted retaliatory rocket fire by the Islamic Jihad militant group. Another tunnel was demolished late last year and on Sunday, Israel said it destroyed a 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) tunnel built by Hamas which stretched from the Gaza Strip, through Israel and into Egypt.
“Now we’ll see how Hamas responds to these new developments,” Conricus said.
Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman, said the group would find a way around the wall.
“Our people have proved that they are always capable of finding means and mechanisms to overcome all measures by the (Israeli) occupation. Our people have many ways to defend themselves,” he said, without elaborating.
An Israeli military map of the Gaza Strip shown to reporters illustrated the miles of Hamas and Islamic Jihad tunnels honeycombing the Palestinian territory. The military estimates that working around the clock, a couple dozen militants can dig 10 meters (yards) of tunnel per day.


Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

Updated 22 min 36 sec ago
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Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

  • An exhibition is ongoing at the site designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in a call to save it
  • Until Oct. 23, a show titled “Cycles of Collapsing Progress” seeks to celebrate the era that gave rise to the fairground

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Close to the seafront in Lebanon’s Tripoli, giant curves of concrete stand testimony to dreams before the civil war, etchings of an exhibition park never finished but already cracking.
This month, a rare exhibition is being held at the site designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in a desperate call to save it from ruin.
Inside the vast grey grounds of the Tripoli International Fair in northern Lebanon, a palm tree throws its dark silhouette onto a giant concrete dome.
A thin arch sweeps high over a narrow footbridge, and a steep staircase spirals up vertically, onto a circular cement platform perched on a curvaceous pillar.
“It’s a futurist paradigm that is unique in Lebanon and the region,” said Lebanese architect Wassim Naghi.
“In its modernity, in its reliance on curves, it sums up the progress of architecture over a hundred years,” he said.
And with buildings dotted over an area the size of 70 rugby pitches, it’s among “Niemeyer’s largest works outside Brazil,” he said.
The Brazilian architect designed landmarks around the globe during a decades-long career that started in the 1930s and ended in the 21st century.
When he died six years ago aged 104, he left behind hundreds of buildings, in Brazil as well as in the United States, France, Malaysia, Algeria and Cuba.
But today his work in Lebanon is in urgent need of restoration.
“These buildings of reinforced concrete need to be restored rapidly. There are buildings being eaten away at, blocks falling down, and many cracks,” Naghi warned.
“We fear there will be unpleasant surprises, especially during the rainy season,” he said.
Until October 23, a show titled “Cycles of Collapsing Progress” seeks to celebrate the era that gave rise to the fairground, but also sound the alarm.
In the halls under the perched platform, visitors can admire a seabed of snaking rebar, or even an elongated white space rocket hanging from the cieling.
The show “documents a golden age in Lebanon’s modern history — the architectural, scientific and cultural dreams of the time,” said curator Karina Al-Helu.
During the 1960s, the tiny Mediterranean country had its own space program, successfully launching a small unmanned rocket into space.
When Niemeyer was first asked to design the outdoor space in 1962, there were plans for the rooms under the circular platform to house a space museum.
But dreams of outer-space exploration, and any museum to commemorate it, were indefinitely put on hold with the outbreak of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The exhibition aims to remind Lebanese visitors of this chapter of the country’s recent past, Helu said, but also shine a light on a landmark about to collapse.
In a country whose history goes back millennia to the Phoenician period, she urged the authorities to give equal attention to modern architecture.
“It’s great to restore buildings that show Lebanon’s ancient history, but we should also care about the landmarks of this country’s modern history,” she said.
Architect Naghi said he was not optimistic about any immediate intervention by the government.
“The current atmosphere of crisis in the country doesn’t bode well,” he said, referring to a months-long deadlock over forming a cabinet.
Any renovation should involve in-depth studies and specialized companies, he said, “and that would require a lot of money, as well as a government decision.”
Instead, Naghi and others hope that the site can be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Brazil’s capital Brasilia and an outdoor center in the south of the country, both of which were designed by Niemeyer, are already featured on it.
Sahar Baassiri, Lebanon’s delegate to UNESCO, said efforts were now being made toward adding the concrete park to the list’s contemporary architecture section.
Akram Oueida, president of the fairground, said Lebanese officials have made promises of assistance, but none have yet materialized.
Getting the concrete park listed by UNESCO may help, Oueida said: “That could open the door to funding from donors.”