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UN Has Some More Explaining to Do After Israel’s Latest Discovery

un-has-some-more-explaining-to-do-after-israel’s-latest-discovery
UN Has Some More Explaining to Do After Israel’s Latest Discovery

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UN Has Some More Explaining to Do After Israel’s Latest Discovery

 By The Associated Press  February 10, 2024 at 11:03am

The Israeli military says it has discovered tunnels underneath the main headquarters of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza City, alleging that Hamas militants used the space as an electrical supply room.

The unveiling of the tunnels marked the latest chapter in Israel’s campaign against the embattled agency, which it accuses of collaborating with Hamas.

Recent Israeli allegations that a dozen staff members participated in the Hamas attack on Israel Oct. 7 plunged the agency into a financial crisis, prompting major donor states to suspend their funding as well as twin investigations. The agency says that Israel has also frozen its bank account, embargoed aid shipments and canceled its tax benefits.

The army invited journalists to view the tunnel on Thursday.

It did not prove definitively that Hamas militants operated in the tunnels underneath the U.N. Relief and Works Agency facility, but it did show that at least a portion of the tunnel ran underneath the facility’s courtyard. The military claimed that the headquarters supplied the tunnels with electricity.

UNRWA says it had no knowledge of the facility’s underground, but the findings merit an “independent inquiry,” which the agency is unable to perform due to the ongoing war.

The headquarters, on the western edge of Gaza City, are now completely decimated. To locate the tunnel, forces repeated an Israeli tactic used elsewhere in the strip, overturning mounds of red earth to produce a crater-like hole giving way to a small tunnel entrance. The unearthed shaft led to an underground passageway that an Associated Press journalist estimated stretched for at least half a quarter of a mile, with at least 10 doors.

At one point, journalists were able to gaze upward from the tunnel, through a hole, and make eye contact with soldiers standing in a courtyard within the UNRWA facility.

Inside one of the UNRWA buildings, journalists saw a room full of computers with wires stretching down into the ground. Soldiers then showed them a room in the underground tunnel where they claimed the wires connected.

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That underground room bore a wall of electrical cabinets with multicolored buttons and was lined with dozens of cables. The military claimed the room served as a hub powering tunnel infrastructure in the area.

“Twenty meters above us is the UNRWA headquarters,” said Lt. Col. Ido, whose last name was redacted by the military. “This is the electricity room, you can see all around here. The batteries, the electricity on walls, everything is conducted from here, all the energy for the tunnels which you walked through them are powered from here.”

The Associated Press journalist could see the tunnel stretching beyond the area underneath the facility.

Hamas has acknowledged building hundreds of miles of tunnels across Gaza. One of the main objectives of the Israeli offensive has been to destroy that network, which it says is used by Hamas to move fighters, weapons and supplies throughout the territory. It accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields and has exposed many tunnels running near mosques, schools and U.N. facilities.

UNRWA communications director Juliette Touma said the agency was unaware what lay beneath it, saying she had visited the facility multiple times and did not recognize the electrical room. In a statement, Touma wrote that UNRWA had conducted a regular quarterly inspection of the facility in September.

“UNRWA is a human development and humanitarian organization that does not have the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises,” read the statement.

Also in the tunnel, journalists saw a small bathroom with a toilet and a faucet, a room with shelves and a room with two small vehicles in it that soldiers said the militants used to traverse the tunnel network. The military said Saturday night that the tunnel began at a UNRWA school, and was 765 yards long and 20 yards deep.

The military said forces uncovered rifles, ammunition, grenades, and explosives in the facility, claiming it has been used by Hamas militants. Touma said the agency has not revisited the headquarters since staff evacuated Oct. 12, and is unaware of how the facility may have been used.

Israel has found similar primitive quarters in tunnels across Gaza over the course of its 4 month-long campaign in Gaza. The offensive was launched after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and dragging 250 hostages back to Gaza. Since then, Israeli war planes and ground troops have killed over 27,000 Palestinians in the strip, unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe and wreaked widespread damage.

Leaving the facility, it was nearly impossible to identify one window left fully intact. Bullet holes pockmarked the walls. Shrapnel was everywhere, crumpled-up U.N. vehicles were perched precariously atop building debris. Dogs roamed the area.

“The Israeli army is occupying our biggest UNRWA headquarters,” Touma said in response to Israeli allegations. “That’s what’s outrageous.”

Associated Press writer Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands. Photo credit: @AP on Twitter

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