Hamas fighters can travel underground throughout the entirety of the Gaza Strip using the terror group’s tunnel network, according to a Hamas operative who was captured last month after he crossed illegally into Israel from Gaza.
“Hamas has dug an extensive network for moving fighters around the Strip exclusively underground,” which includes rest quarters for use by elite fighters, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said. The revelation follows the IDF’s recent discovery of two Hamas terror tunnels that crossed into Israeli territory. IDF spokesman Col. Peter Lerner attributed the detection of the second tunnel to improved intelligence and technology. Another Hamas operative, who was arrested in April after sneaking into Israel on a self-described mission to murder Israelis, told authorities that Hamas digs tunnels from private homes and institutions in Gaza.
During Operation Protective Edge (OPE) in 2014, which was launched in response to Hamas’ continued rocket fire, the IDF discovered and destroyed at least 34 tunnels in Gaza. Hamas killed several Israeli soldiers through its use of cross-border tunnels, including five soldiers in Israeli territory near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The IDF explained that Hamas intended to use the tunnels “to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and soldiers alike; infiltrations into Israeli communities, mass murders and hostage-taking scenarios.”
Palestinians in Gaza have recently expressed fears that Hamas tunnels built in or near civilian areas are putting non-combatants at risk of being hurt by Israeli strikes. “I am sure, one million percent, that those with tunnels under their houses cannot sleep, or taste the joy of life,” one anonymous 42-year-old woman in Gaza told The New York Times.
According to the UN, only 23% of Palestinian homes that were destroyed during the war have been reconstructed. Israel has accused Hamas of confiscating 95% of the cement entering Gaza, diverting it from civilian reconstruction and using it to build its tunnels instead. The Gaza-based terror group has invested heavily in expanding and building its network of tunnels since the 2014 conflict. Hamas reportedly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each month and employs more than a thousand operatives “24 hours a day, six days a week” to build tunnels. “We have a Gaza City under the ground, and we have nothing up here,” a 23-year-old Gazan who lives in a mobile home told The New York Times in May.
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 weeks earlier 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.”
[Photo: Israel Army Spokesperson ]