Israeli military says Hamas command post found in tunnel under UN office

UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. Photo: IDF
UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. Photo: IDF

One of the Hamas command posts was located in a tunnel under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Source: The Times of Israel; Reuters; Israel Defense Forces

Details: Israeli army engineers took reporters for foreign news outlets through the passages under UNRWA.

UNRWA Headquarters is in Gaza City, among northern areas that Israeli troops and tanks overran early in the four-month war against the governing Islamist faction Hamas, which forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee south.

"Reporters on the closely escorted trip entered a shaft next to a school on the periphery of the U.N. compound, descending to the concrete-lined tunnel. Twenty minutes of walking through the stifling hot, narrow and occasionally winding passage brought them underneath UNRWA Headquarters, an army lieutenant-colonel leading the tour said.

The tunnel, which the military said was 700 metres long and 18 metres deep, bifurcated at times, revealing 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," Reuters reported.

All the energy for the tunnels was powered from this battery room, the lieutenant-colonel who led the tour said.

"This is one of the central commands of the intelligence. This place is one of the Hamas intelligence units, where they commanded most of the combat," he explained.

He also said Hamas appeared to have evacuated in the face of the Israeli advance, preemptively cutting off communications cables that ran through the floor of the UNRWA Headquarters’ basement.

It appeared that heavy Israeli shelling and sustained winter rains may also have forced Hamas to evacuate, as several stretches of the tunnel were clogged with sand and knee-high water.

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

Reuters said UNRWA was already experiencing a "time of crisis", having launched an internal probe and seen a string of donor countries freeze funding over allegations last month by Israel that some of its staff doubled as Hamas operatives.

"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 agency runs schools, primary healthcare clinics and other social services, and distributes aid, describing its activities as purely humanitarian," Reuters reported.

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