© Reuters. An Israeli soldier stands in what the military described as a Hamas command tunnel running partly under UNRWA headquarters, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. REUTERS/Dyl
By Dylan Martinez
GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces have discovered a tunnel network hundreds of metres (yards) long and running partly under UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters, the military says, calling it new evidence of Hamas exploitation of the main relief agency for Palestinians.
Army engineers took reporters for foreign news outlets through the passages at a time of crisis for UNRWA, which has 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.
UNRWA Headquarters is in Gaza City, among northern areas that Israeli troops and tanks overran early in the four-month-old war against the governing Islamist faction Hamas, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing southward.
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.
“Everything is conducted from here. All the energy for the tunnels, which you walked through them are powered from here,” said the lieutenant-colonel, who gave only his first name, Ido.
“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.”
But Ido said Hamas appeared to have evacuated in the face of the Israeli…