© Reuters. An Israeli soldier stands in what the military described as a Hamas command tunnel working partly under UNRWA headquarters, amid the continuing battle between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, within the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. REUTERS/Dyl
By Dylan Martinez
GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces have found a tunnel community a whole lot of metres (yards) lengthy and working partly under UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters, the military says, calling it new proof of Hamas exploitation of the principle aid company for Palestinians.
Army engineers took reporters for international information retailers by the passages at a time of disaster for UNRWA, which has launched an inner probe and seen a string of donor international locations freeze funding over allegations final month by Israel that a few of its workers doubled as Hamas operatives.
The Palestinians have accused Israel of falsifying data to tarnish UNRWA, which employs 13,000 folks within the Gaza Strip and has been a lifeline for the aid-dependent inhabitants for years. The company runs faculties, major healthcare clinics and different social providers, and distributes support, describing its actions as purely humanitarian.
UNRWA Headquarters is in Gaza City, amongst northern areas that Israeli troops and tanks overran early within the four-month-old battle towards the governing Islamist faction Hamas, sending a whole lot of hundreds of civilians fleeing southward.
Reporters on the intently escorted journey entered a shaft subsequent to a college on the periphery of the U.N. compound, descending to the concrete-lined tunnel. Twenty minutes of strolling by the stifling sizzling, slender and infrequently winding passage introduced them beneath UNRWA Headquarters, a military lieutenant-colonel main the tour mentioned.
The tunnel, which the military mentioned was 700 metres lengthy and 18 metres deep, bifurcated at occasions, revealing side-rooms. There was an workplace area, with metal safes that had been opened and emptied. There was a tiled bathroom. One massive chamber was full of laptop servers, one other with industrial battery stacks.
“Everything is performed from right here. All the vitality for the tunnels, which you walked by them are powered from right here,” said the lieutenant-colonel, who gave only his first name, Ido.
“This is without doubt one of the central instructions of the intelligence. This place is without doubt one of the Hamas intelligence models, the place they commanded a lot of the fight.”
But Ido said Hamas appeared to have evacuated in the face of the Israeli advance, preemptively cutting off communications cables that, in an above-ground part of the tour, he showed running through the floor of the UNRWA Headquarters’ basement.
It appeared that heavy Israeli barrages and sustained winter rains may also have played a part in the departure: Several stretches of the tunnel were clogged with dislodged sand and knee-high water.
In a statement, UNRWA said it had vacated the headquarters on Oct. 12, five days after the war began, and was therefore “unable to substantiate or in any other case remark” on the Israeli finding.
“UNRWA … doesn’t have the military and safety experience nor the capability to undertake military inspections of what’s or is perhaps under its premises,” the statement said.
“In the previous, at any time when (a) suspicious cavity was discovered near or under UNRWA premises, protest letters have been promptly filed to events to the battle, together with each the de facto authorities in Gaza (Hamas) and the Israeli authorities.”
UNRWA’s supporters say it is the only agency with the means of aiding Palestinians in deepening humanitarian distress. Israel says the agency is “perforated by Hamas” and must be replaced. Hamas has denied operating in civilian facilities.
“We know that they (Hamas) have folks working in UNRWA. We need each worldwide group to work in Gaza. That just isn’t an issue. Our downside is the Hamas,” Ido advised reporters.
Lack of cellphone reception within the tunnel made geolocating it as under UNRWA Headquarters inconceivable. Instead, reporters have been requested to place private gadgets in a bucket that was lowered by rope right into a vertical gap on the grounds of the headquarters. They have been reunited with the still-tethered gadgets throughout the tunnel tour.
As a situation of taking journalists on the journey, the Israeli military didn’t permit images of military intelligence equivalent to maps or sure gear within the convoy of armoured automobiles they traveled in. It additionally requested approval earlier than transmission of images and video footage taken on the journey.