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Gazans Fear Being Used as Human Shields as Hamas Builds Tunnels Under Homes

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip increasingly fear that the ongoing construction of Hamas tunnels in residential areas means that their lives will be in danger if a future war breaks out between the terrorist group and Israel, The New York Times reported.

One woman living by Gaza’s border with Israel said she believes a hidden tunnel entry point is located near the shelter where her family has resided since losing their home during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. The woman, who used the name Umm Nidal to conceal her identity, told the Times that she fears that she and her family will be “torn apart” in any future fighting. “I am sure, one million percent, that those with tunnels under their houses cannot sleep, or taste the joy of life,” she added.

“Every tunnel that appeared on that map will be hit in the day before the night,” another woman said, apparently in reference to the tunnel routes that Israel said it received from two Hamas operatives it detained in April.

While Israel destroyed 32 terror tunnels during the 2014 war, Israeli officials have been warning for some time that Hamas has rebuilt much of its underground infrastructure. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, told the Times that Hamas’ practice of digging tunnels underneath homes is “an insidious plan” to attack Israelis “while concealing Hamas activities behind the people of Gaza.”

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the building of military facilities in civilian areas is forbidden. The relevant language describes the use of human shields as “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations.” This “constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts,” the ICRC added.

In addition to the fear Gazans feel from having the terror tunnels constructed under their neighborhoods, some also criticized Hamas for prioritizing attacks on Israel over bettering the lives of civilians inside the strip.

One woman, who did not give her name due to fear of retribution from Hamas, told the Times that when she received a voucher to buy cement from an approved vendor, he had no more to sell her. Meanwhile, she and her relatives have been awakened at night by the sound of trucks being used to build tunnels. “How can we say they are helping when they are building tunnels?” she asked.

Dan Feferman explained the reason behind the cement shortage in Your Complete Guide to Hamas’ Network of Terror Tunnels, which was published in the April 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine.

There is a tragic side to Hamas’ tunnel strategy. Roughly 9,000 homes were destroyed during Protective Edge, and very few have been rebuilt. This is not Israel’s fault, as building supplies flow regularly into Gaza. But according to declassified intelligence reports, these supplies are routinely stolen by Hamas in order to serve the group’s terrorist purposes. Hamas smuggles in cement, diverts from construction and humanitarian donations, and even raids civilian construction sites in order to rebuild its tunnels. Estimates are that one tunnel can cost a million dollars to build and uses around 50,000 tons of concrete. Close to a million tons of concrete were poured into the terror tunnels before 2014.

Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, formerly the head of the research division of Israeli military intelligence and later the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told reporters earlier this month that the discovery of the tunnels was a sign that Hamas was preparing for another war against Israel. He added that the tunnel digging means that “they definitely invest a lot in making the necessary preparations so that in the next round, when they decide to start it, they will be able to inflict the heaviest damage on Israel, including through those tunnels.”

Israel went to war with Hamas in the summer of 2014 in order to stop the terrorist group from firing rockets at civilians and eliminate the threat posed by its tunnels. Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, two years before Hamas took over the territory after a civil war with Fatah. According to the IDF, Palestinian terror groups have launched over 11,000 rockets at Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, with over five million Israeli civilians living under threat of rocket fire.

[Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90 ]