Israeli forces have discovered a tunnel network hundreds of meters long and partly under UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters, calling it new evidence of Hamas exploitation of the main relief agency for Palestinians.
The tunnel, which is 700 meters long and 18 meters deep, bifurcates at times, revealing side-rooms, an office space with steel safes, a tiled toilet, and a large chamber packed with computer servers and industrial battery stacks.
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. UNRWA Headquarters is located in Gaza City, among the northern areas that Israeli troops and tanks overran early in the four-month-old war against the governing Islamist faction Hamas.
Reporters on a closely escorted trip through the tunnel entered a shaft next to a school on the periphery of the U.N. compound, descending to the concrete-lined tunnel. The tunnel, which the military said was 700 meters long and 18 meters deep, bifurcated at times, revealing side-rooms.
Hamas appeared to have evacuated in the face of the Israeli advance, preemptively cutting off communications cables that were running through the floor of the UNRWA Headquarters’ basement. Heavy Israeli barrages and sustained winter rains may have also played a part in the departure, as several stretches of the tunnel were clogged with dislodged sand and knee-high water. UNRWA said it had vacated the headquarters on October 12, five days after the war began, and was therefore “unable to confirm or otherwise comment” on the Israeli finding.