The Israeli military says it has discovered a tunnel beneath the headquarters of the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency in Gaza City, and claims Hamas militants were using the space as a power supply room.
The unveiling of the tunnels marked the latest chapter in Israel’s campaign against the embattled government agency, which Israel accuses of collaborating with Hamas.
UNRWA Director-General Philippe Lazzarini said the agency had no knowledge of the underground facility, but that the discovery merited an “independent investigation”, which the agency would investigate due to the ongoing war. He said he couldn’t do it.
Recent Israeli claims that more than a dozen staffers took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel have plunged the agency into a financial crisis, led to a formal investigation and some donor countries to cut funding. It was done. The agency said Israel had also frozen bank accounts, banned aid shipments and revoked tax incentives.
The military invited journalists to tour the tunnels on Thursday.
Although it was not conclusively proven that Hamas militants were operating in the tunnels beneath the UNRWA facility, it was established that at least part of the tunnels ran under the facility’s courtyard. The military claimed that the command was providing power to the tunnel.
Military digs to find tunnels
Its headquarters on the western edge of Gaza City is now completely destroyed. To locate the tunnels, the troops repeated an Israeli tactic used elsewhere in the area: overturning piles of red earth to create crater-like openings that led to small tunnel entrances. The excavated shaft leads to an underground passageway, which an Associated Press reporter estimated stretches for at least half a kilometer and has at least 10 doors.
At one point, journalists were able to look up through a hole in the tunnel and make eye contact with soldiers standing in a courtyard inside the UNRWA facility.
In one of UNRWA’s buildings, journalists witnessed a room full of computers with wires extending all the way to the ground. The soldiers then showed a room in an underground tunnel where they claimed the wires were connected.
The basement had walls of electrical cabinets with colorful buttons and dozens of cables. The military claimed that the chamber acted as a hub to power the tunnel infrastructure in the area.
“20 meters above us is the UNRWA headquarters,” said a lieutenant colonel named Ido, whose last name was redacted by the military. “This is the electrical room. You can see it everywhere here. The batteries, the electricity in the walls, everything comes from here. All the energy for the tunnels you walk through comes from here.”
An Associated Press reporter observed that the tunnel extended beyond the area beneath the facility.
Israel calls for tunnels to be destroyed
Hamas has admitted to building hundreds of kilometers of tunnels across Gaza. One of the main objectives of the Israeli offensive was to destroy this network, which Hamas uses to move fighters, weapons and supplies into its territory. He accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and exposed a number of tunnels running near mosques, schools and United Nations facilities.
Lazzarini said authorities don’t know what’s at the root of it. in a statementLazzarini wrote that UNRWA conducted a regular quarterly inspection of the facility in September.
“UNRWA is a human development and humanitarian organization and does not have military or security expertise or the ability to conduct military inspections of anything that is or may be on its premises,” the statement said. It is written in the text.
Inside the tunnel, journalists also saw a small bathroom with a toilet and tap, a room with shelves, and a room containing two small vehicles used by soldiers to cross the tunnel network.
The military said Saturday night that the tunnel started at the UNRWA school and was 700 meters long and 18 meters deep.
The military said it found rifles, ammunition, grenades and explosives inside the compound, which it said were used by Hamas militants. Lazzarini said the agency has not revisited the headquarters since employees were evacuated on Oct. 12 and does not know how the facility was used.
Israel discovered similar primitive settlements in tunnels across Gaza during the course of a four-month military operation. The attack began after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and forcing 250 hostages back to Gaza. Since then, Israeli warplanes and ground forces have attacked targets across the enclave, causing a humanitarian catastrophe and causing widespread damage. Gaza health authorities said more than 28,000 Palestinians had died.
Once we left the facility, it was nearly impossible to identify the one window that remained completely intact. Bullet holes pocked the walls. Debris was scattered everywhere, and a crumpled United Nations vehicle perched precariously on the rubble of the building. Dogs were roaming the area.