Hamas denied that it or any other terror group built a tunnel under two UN schools in Gaza after its discovery drew a strong UN protest.
Over the years, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have built a labyrinth of tunnels, some passing under the border into Israel which they used to launch attacks during their last conflict in 2014.
On June 1, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) found “part of a tunnel that passes under two adjacent agency schools in the Maghazi camp” during construction work, spokesman Christopher Gunness said on Friday.
Hamas late Friday “strongly condemned” the UNRWA revelation, saying it would be exploited by Israel to “justify its crimes”.
The terror group denied it built the tunnel and said it had clarified the issue “with all factions and resistance forces, who clearly stated they had no actions related to the resistance in the said location,” the movement said, adding that it respected UNRWA’s work.
Gunness said that the tunnel “has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way”.
“UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way,” he said.
Gunness said the agency had “robustly intervened and protested to Hamas in Gaza”.
He said UNRWA will seal the tunnel, which was discovered while the schools were empty during the summer holiday.
Attack tunnels were a key weapon for Hamas during the 2014 Gaza war.
Hamas also built a vast network of tunnels under Gaza’s border with Egypt to smuggle goods and weapons.
The Israeli army found and destroyed several tunnels during the 2014 war.
UNRWA has long been criticized by Israel for aspects of its handling of relations with Hamas, and Israel has claimed that some of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees support terrorist activities and spread anti-Semitism online.
In February, a UN watchdog group released a report showing screenshots from the Facebook pages of 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and other parts of the Mideast that it said “incite to Jihadist terrorism and anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”
In April, the agency said a Gaza staffer suspected of having been elected to Hamas’s leadership no longer works for it but declined to clarify whether he was fired or resigned after Israel voiced its objections.
An independent UN inquiry found in 2015 that Palestinian armed groups hid weapons in three empty UN-run schools in Gaza and that in at least two cases terrorists “probably” fired rockets at Israel from the facilities during the summer war in 2014 between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said in a statement Friday “that the cruelty of Hamas knows no bounds as they use the children of Gaza as human shields. Instead of UN schools serving as centers of learning and education, Hamas has turned them into terror bases for attacks on Israel.”
He called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN Security Council to ensure strict oversight over the UN body. “The UN must act immediately to ensure that their structures and institutions are not being used to harbor the terror infrastructure of Hamas,” Danon said.