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Updated February 11th, 2024 at 00:06 IST

Israel Claims to Have Uncovered Hamas Tunnel Network Beneath UNRWA Headquarters for Palestine

The military claimed the room served as a hub powering tunnel infrastructure in the area.

Israel Hamas tunnels Gaza UNRWA Netanyahu flooding
The Israeli military has discovered a large tunnel shaft in Gaza close to what was once a busy crossing into Israel. | Image:AP
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Tel Aviv: That underground room bore a wall of electrical cabinets with multicoloured buttons and was lined with dozens of cables. The military claimed the room served as a hub powering tunnel infrastructure in the area.

“Twenty metres above us is the UNRWA headquarters," said Lt. Col. Ido, whose last name was redacted by the military. "This is the electricity room, you can see all around here. The batteries, the electricity on walls, everything is conducted from here, all the energy for the tunnels which you walked though them are powered from here.” The Associated Press journalist could see the tunnel stretching beyond the area underneath the facility.

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Hamas has acknowledged building hundreds of kilometres (miles) of tunnels across Gaza. One of the main objectives of the Israeli offensive has been to destroy that network, which it says is used by Hamas to move fighters, weapons and supplies throughout the territory. It accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields and has exposed many tunnels running near mosques, schools and U.N. facilities.

UNWRA communications director Juliette Touma said the agency was unaware what lay beneath it, saying she had visited the facility multiple times and did not recognize the electrical room. In a statement, Touma wrote that UNWRA had conducted a regular quarterly inspection of the facility in September.

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“UNRWA is a human development and humanitarian organisation that does not have the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises,” read the statement.

Also in the tunnel, journalists saw a small bathroom with a toilet and a faucet, a room with shelves and a room with two small vehicles in it that soldiers said the militants used to traverse the tunnel network. The military said Saturday night that the tunnel began at a UNWRA school, and was 700 metres (765 yards) long and 18 metres (20 yards) deep.

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The military said forces uncovered rifles, ammunition, grenades, and explosives in the facility, claiming it has been used by Hamas militants. Touma said the agency has not revisited the headquarters since staff evacuated Oct. 12, and is unaware of how the facility may have been used.

Israel has found similar primitive quarters in tunnels across Gaza over the course of its 4 month-long campaign in Gaza. The offensive was launched after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and dragging 250 hostages back to Gaza. Since then, Israeli war planes and ground troops have killed over 27,000 Palestinians in the strip, unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe and wreaked widespread damage.

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Leaving the facility, it was nearly impossible to identify one window left fully intact. Bullet holes pockmarked the walls. Shrapnel was everywhere, crumpled-up U.N. vehicles were perched precariously atop building debris. Dogs roamed the area.

“The Israeli army is occupying our biggest UNRWA headquarters," Touma said in response to Israeli allegations. “That's what's outrageous.”

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Disclaimer: Except for the headline, Republic Digital hasn't edited the story.

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Published February 11th, 2024 at 00:06 IST

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