BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces said in a statement on Friday that they had found a tunnel "built by Gaza terrorists" leading hundreds of meters into Israel earlier in the week, a day after Hamas officials downplayed the discovery.
"The exposure of this tunnel was based on intelligence, and boots on the ground in the vicinity of the Gaza security fence," Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in the statement.
The spokesman added that the tunnel "posed a direct link and threat to Israeli territory," and that it potentially could have enabled "Hamas terrorists to reach and harm Israeli civilians."
"In the past Gaza terrorists have utilized such tunnels to Israel for infiltration, detonation and abduction of Israeli citizens," he said.
The statement said that three such tunnels had been discovered by Israeli forces in 2013.
The armed wing of the Hamas movement, however, on Thursday downplayed the significance of the tunnel, saying it was old and had only become exposed due to recent stormy conditions.
The claims by the al-Qassam brigades came in a press conference in the evening after initial reports that Israeli forces had discovered a tunnel into Israel during a large operation in the area.
Spokesperson for the group Abu Ubeida said that Hamas militants had "tried to repair the tunnels despite the fact that Israeli aircraft are trying to find the tunnels of the resistance in Gaza," adding that recent weather conditions, however, had exposed the tunnel to Israeli forces.
"In the context of the Israeli obsession with the resistance's tunnels and their hysteria about our resistance," the spokesperson said, Israeli security forces are having a "big celebration as they seem to think they have made significant achievements in the fight against the resistance."
Abu Ubeida added that everything Hamas does comes as a defense of the Palestinian people in the face of continuing Israeli attacks, and called for people to wait with "patience for the consequences of the tyranny against our people."
Hamas and Israel have maintained a fragile ceasefire since Nov. 2012, when Israeli forces launched a major assault that killed around 170 Gazans.
The most recent flare up occurred last week, after Israeli forces launched an airstrike that killed three Hamas militants near the border after four Palestinians were reported killed in the West Bank in a 24-hour-period.
In response, Hamas launched dozens of rockets into Israel, while Israeli forces launched further air strikes in return. After two days of hostilities, however, the ceasefire re-activated.
The Gaza Strip has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by the state of Israel since 2006.
The blockade was imposed following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections and the subsequent 2007 clashes between Fatah and Hamas, which left Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank.