The Israeli military says Hamas had a command tunnel under the UN headquarters in Gaza

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Written by Dylan Martinez

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces discovered a network of tunnels hundreds of meters long, part of which extends under the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, the Israeli army said, describing it as new evidence of Hamas’ exploitation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Army engineers ferried foreign media reporters through the corridors at a time of crisis for UNRWA, which launched an internal investigation and saw a series of donor countries freeze funding over allegations last month by Israel that some of its employees doubled as Hamas activists.

The Palestinians accused Israel of falsifying information to distort UNRWA, which employs 13,000 people in the Gaza Strip and has served as a lifeline for residents who have relied on aid for years. The agency runs schools, primary health care clinics and other social services, distributes aid, and describes its activities as purely humanitarian.

UNRWA’s headquarters is located in Gaza City, between the northern areas that were overrun by Israeli forces and tanks early in the four-month-long war against the ruling Islamist Hamas movement, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing south.

The journalists on the trip, which was accompanied by heavy security, entered a corridor adjacent to a school on the perimeter of the United Nations complex, and went down into the tunnel lined with concrete. An army lieutenant colonel who led the tour said that twenty minutes of walking through the hot, stifling, narrow and sometimes winding corridor brought them to the bottom of the UNRWA headquarters.

The tunnel, which the army said was 700 meters long and 18 meters deep, sometimes bifurcated to reveal side chambers. There was an office space with steel lockers that had been opened and emptied. There was a tiled toilet. One large room was filled with computer servers, while the other was filled with piles of industrial batteries.

“Everything is done from here. All the energy for the tunnels I walked through gets their energy from here,” said the presenter, who gave only his first name, Ido.

“This is one of the central intelligence headquarters. This place is one of the Hamas intelligence units, where they led most of the fighting.”

But Iddo said Hamas appeared to have withdrawn in the face of the Israeli advance, preemptively cutting communications cables that he showed, in an above-ground portion of the tour, running through the basement floor of UNRWA headquarters.

It appears that heavy Israeli attacks and persistent winter rains may also have played a role in the departure: several stretches of the tunnel were blocked by shifting sand and knee-deep water.

UNRWA said in a statement that it evacuated its headquarters on October 12, five days after the war began, and therefore “was unable to confirm or comment” on the Israeli outcome.

The statement said, “UNRWA…does not have the military and security experience nor the ability to conduct military inspections of what is or may be under its buildings.”

“In the past, whenever a suspicious cavity was found near or under UNRWA buildings, letters of protest were immediately submitted to the parties to the conflict, including the de facto authorities in Gaza (Hamas) and the Israeli authorities.”

Supporters of UNRWA say it is the only agency with the means to help Palestinians suffering from growing humanitarian distress. Israel says the agency is “perforated by Hamas” and must be replaced. Hamas denied working in civilian facilities.

Eido told reporters, “We know that (Hamas) has people working in UNRWA. We want every international organization to work in Gaza. This is not a problem. Our problem is Hamas.”

The lack of mobile phone reception in the tunnel made geolocation as at UNRWA headquarters impossible. Instead, reporters were asked to place their personal items in a bucket that was lowered with a rope into a vertical hole on the headquarters grounds. They are reunited with the items still tied up during the tunnel tour.

As a condition of accompanying the journalists on the trip, the Israeli army did not allow the filming of military intelligence such as maps or certain equipment in the convoy of armored vehicles in which they traveled. He also requested consent before transferring captured photos and videos on the site. a trip.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Frances Kerry)

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