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Israel Discovers Hamas Tunnels Under UNRWA Gaza Headquarters

10 February 2024

By:

VOA News

2024-02-11 0029

Israeli forces have discovered a tunnel network hundreds of meters long extending partly under UNRWA's Gaza headquarters, the military says, calling it new evidence of Hamas militants burrowing under the main relief agency for Palestinians.


Israeli Army engineers took reporters with foreign news outlets through the tunnel passages. They entered a shaft next to a school on the periphery of the United Nations compound, descending to the concrete-lined tunnel.


After 20 minutes of walking through the hot, narrow and occasionally winding passage, they got underneath UNRWA headquarters, according to an army lieutenant-colonel leading the tour.


The military said the tunnel was 700 meters long, 18 meters deep — bifurcated at times — and it revealed side rooms. There was an office space, with steel safes that had been opened and emptied. There was a tiled toilet. One large chamber was packed with computer servers, another with industrial battery stacks.

"Everything is conducted from here. All the energy for the tunnels, which you walked through them, are powered from here," said the lieutenant-colonel, who gave only his first name, Ido.


Ido said Hamas militants appeared to have evacuated when Israel Defense Forces, also known as IDF, were advancing. He said they preemptively cut communications cables, which he showed, that ran through the floor of the UNRWA headquarters' basement.


It appeared that heavy Israeli barrages and sustained winter rains also may have played a part in the militants' departure. Several stretches of the tunnel were clogged with dislodged sand and knee-high water.


Call for UNRWA official to resign

After the discovery of the tunnel, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called for the resignation of UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini on a post on social media platform X.


Katz dismissed Lazzarini's claim that he was unaware of the tunnel's existence as "not only absurd but also an affront to common sense."

In a statement, UNRWA said it had vacated the headquarters on October 12, five days after the terror attack occurred, and was therefore "unable to confirm or otherwise comment" on the Israeli finding.


"UNRWA ... does not have the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises," the statement said.


This is a time of internal crisis for the U.N. relief agency, which is facing Israeli allegations that some of its staff were working for Hamas. The agency has launched its own internal probe into the claims, and several donor countries have frozen their funding.


The Palestinians have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA, which employs 13,000 people in the Gaza Strip and has been a lifeline for the aid-dependent population for years. The humanitarian agency runs schools, primary health care clinics and other social services, and it distributes aid.


"We know that they [Hamas] have people working in UNRWA. We want every international organization to work in Gaza. That is not a problem. Our problem is the Hamas," Ido told reporters.

Hamas has denied numerous and longstanding accusations that it operates in and underneath civilian facilities, such as schools and hospitals.


The Israeli military did not allow journalists to take photographs of military intelligence, such as maps or certain equipment in the convoy of armored vehicles they traveled in. It also requested approval before transmission of photographs and video footage taken during the trip.

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