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Hamas denies existence of tunnels under civilian buildings

Though IDF provided exact coordinates for entrances into passageways, terror group says claim is part of plan to legitimize targeting innocents

Cranes and other machinery are seen on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza Strip, on September 8, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
Cranes and other machinery are seen on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza Strip, on September 8, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

The Hamas terror group on Monday denied Israeli allegations that it has built attack tunnels entrances under the homes of Gazan civilians, claiming that the Israeli accusation is meant to lay the groundwork for attacks against residential buildings in any future conflict.

On Wednesday, the head of the IDF’s Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, revealed the location of two alleged Hamas tunnel sites buried underneath an apartment building and a family home in the northern Gaza Strip, and threatened to blow up both structures despite a desire to avoid civilian casualties.

“Such lies and rumors are part of [Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir’s] failed policy and psychological warfare meant to influence the morale of the Palestinian people and legitimize crimes that he may commit against civilians in Gaza,” Hamas said in a statement published on its official website.

Hamas called on the media not to publish the “lies and rumors of the occupation army,” and on international human rights groups to “carry out their duty to expose the intentions of the Zionist occupation to intentionally target unarmed civilians.”

Yet while Hamas denied the Israeli allegation, the Israeli military provided reporters with both satellite images of the alleged Hamas tunnel covers in the northern Gaza city of Beit Lahiya and their geographic coordinates: 31°33’05.9″N 34°28’07.9″E and 31°32’45.2″N, 34°29’52.8″E.

A satellite image provided by the IDF that allegedly shows the location of a Hamas tunnel that was dug beneath an apartment building in northern Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)
A satellite image provided by the IDF that allegedly shows the location of a Hamas tunnel that was dug beneath an apartment building in northern Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Israeli general, the entrance to one of the Hamas tunnels is located under a six-story apartment building, which was constructed within the past two years. It is located around the corner from a gas station in the neighborhood of al-Atatra.

The army’s satellite photograph notes the approximate location of the tunnel shaft in the building’s southern corner.

The army said the second site is a home owned by Omar Muhammad Mahmoud Hamad, where he lives with his five children in Beit Lahiya. Hamad’s father and brother also live in the house. The military said Hamad is an active Hamas member.

A satellite image provided by the IDF that allegedly shows the location of a Hamas tunnel that was dug beneath an apartment building in northern Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)
A satellite image provided by the IDF that allegedly shows the location of a Hamas tunnel that was dug beneath an apartment building in northern Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the IDF, the tunnel beneath Hamad’s house connects to a nearby mosque.

The building is around the corner from a cemetery, down the street from the Beit Lahiya municipality, and close to a school for boys and a gas station. It is also close to the Hala Al Shawa Medical Center.

Zamir said Hamas does not appear interested in fighting a war with Israel now, but is preparing itself for a conflict in the future — and so is Israel.

The construction of an above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip, aimed at countering Hamas tunnels dug into Israel to carry out attacks, is advancing on schedule, the general said.

In the past, the military has expressed concerns that the construction of the barrier, which began in earnest this summer, might serve as a catalyst for renewed clashes with Hamas.

The terror group sees tunnels as a central weapon in its fight against Israel and the barrier presents a threat to them.

Placing military infrastructure underneath civilian buildings is not a new practice for Hamas. During and after the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas drew international criticism for using hospitals, schools and mosques as cover for its terrorist activities.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, and head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, center, inspect a newly discovered 'terror tunnel,' believed to have been dug by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, and head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, center, inspect a newly discovered ‘terror tunnel,’ believed to have been dug by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, on April 18, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

In June this year, a Hamas-dug terror tunnel was found under a school run by the United Nations in the central Gaza Strip.

In July 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in response to rocket fire from Gaza. During the 50-day campaign, the IDF destroyed some 14 tunnels that entered Israeli territory and depleted Hamas’s weapons stores.

In the time since the 2014 war, on average between one and two rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel each month. They have been fired by fringe Salafist groups, not by Hamas, which took control of the Strip in 2007 and has ruled the coastal enclave ever since.

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