ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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IDF intel unit’s calls with Gazans reveal cracks of dissent against Hamas rule

With over 50,000 calls to Palestinians in Strip, Unit 504 helped urge many to evacuate south, while also securing intel on Hamas — sometimes from Hamas men themselves

Members of a family sit together in the playground of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) agency that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Members of a family sit together in the playground of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) agency that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

A top IDF intelligence unit has held over 50,000 phone calls with Palestinians in Gaza, which it has used to urge civilians to evacuate combat areas, as well as uncover valuable intelligence from informants, according to a recent report.

The IDF Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 — which specializes in HUMINT (human intelligence) — has held 50,066 phone calls with Palestinians in Gaza while also issuing 12 million voice messages and 14 million text messages, according to figures published by Channel 12 on Saturday.

The vast majority of the messages were aimed at urging Palestinians to evacuate to southern Gaza or to designated shelters and humanitarian zones, during the war.

Channel 12 aired a recording of one conversation it said was from a Palestinian to a Unit 504 soldier, in which the former said he wanted to evacuate south, but that Hamas gunmen were blocking the evacuation route, firing at the feet of those trying to flee. The Palestinian went on to provide the precise location of the Hamas gunmen, and the report said the IDF used the information to carry out an airstrike on them in order to re-open the evacuation route.

In addition to the phone calls, Unit 504 has published countless fliers that it has dispersed in areas from which civilians were ordered to evacuate. They included QR codes with maps offering further information on areas that would soon be targeted by Israel.

In another purported call aired by Channel 12, a Unit 504 soldier could be heard telling a Gazan resident to evacuate immediately ahead of a strike. The soldier then asked whether the man had seen any Hamas gunmen. The Palestinian said he had not and cursed the terror group. “The problem is that we’re dying, and they’re saving themselves, [even though] we haven’t even seen their faces,” he said.

Channel 12 listens in on a call that a Unit 504 officer has with a Palestinian in Gaza on December 24, 2023. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

The man then said it was not safe to publicly criticize Hamas in Gaza. “If you think someone can say something against Hamas and then go out in the street afterward — they will destroy him. You don’t understand what it’s like in Gaza. They (Hamas) do whatever they want.”

In another call recalled by a Unit 504 officer, a Palestinian relayed that Hamas was trying to use homes in his neighborhood to establish a line of defense against the IDF, but that the locals had chased the fighters away.

One Palestinian who had emigrated from Gaza to Europe called Unit 504 to offer information on Hamas. “Many others want something in return, but this man did it because he just hates Hamas,” an officer said. “From this, you understand that something has changed over there.”

While the officers acknowledged that those speaking out against Hamas may well be outliers — and the Channel 12 report appeared to highlight such calls over others — they said many of the conversations still provided the IDF with valuable information about the state of affairs in Gaza.

One call played by the network featured a man from Khan Younis relaying that he saw destruction everywhere. “There’s a lack of basic needs — no food or water.”

Asked about aid from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, the man said the warehouse had been looted and that all the food had been stolen.

Unit 504’s call center to Palestinians in Gaza on December 24, 2023. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

The man said he did not know whether Hamas were the ones stealing the aid. “We don’t see any Hamas members in the streets. Just civilians. Nobody knows where [Hamas] are. Only God knows.”

The Palestinian man went on to wish for an end to the war and a peace agreement so that people in Gaza would be able to return to their routine. “With or without [Hamas] — people just want to live in security and make a living,” he said.

All the Unit 504 members spoke to Channel 12 with their faces blurred and their names concealed. One of them told the network that he believes many in Gaza did not agree with the massacres carried out by Hamas on October 7 — that these murders had crossed a line for them and were not representative of what those in the enclave support. “Some have understood from the Israeli reaction that Hamas’s days [in control] are numbered. This is starting to sink in.”

In another call aired by the network, a Palestinian named Munir confirmed months of reports that Hamas is stealing humanitarian aid, but went further to say that the terror group actually controls UNRWA.

“Wherever Hamas is located, they destroy everything. Hamas places its hand on everything. It has placed its hand on the UNRWA staff. Hamas are the senior leadership of UNRWA, and they’re also in charge of the humanitarian organizations,” Munir said.

“Since the day [Hamas] took over control of Gaza, they’ve gained control over everything,” he said — adding that they also give aid to civilians, but only after distributing it to the terror group’s fighters.

Armed members of the Hamas terror group ride atop a humanitarian aid truck in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 19, 2023. (AP)

Pressed to clarify whether the leaders of UNRWA in Gaza are cooperating with Hamas, Munir responded, “The UNRWA staff are Hamas. This is what you don’t understand. Or in essence, you know this very well. The people in charge of UNRWA’s regional operations centers are Hamas members.”

UNRWA has long denied this widely-cited claim.

The agency told The Times of Israel on Monday, “UNRWA has a strict clearance and scrutiny process for all its staff in Gaza and the region.”

“Every year, UNRWA shares a list of all its staff with the host governments in the region.”

“In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, UNRWA also shares that list with the government of Israel as the occupying power. UNRWA has never received any response or objection from the government of Israel on the content of that list.”

“Whenever allegations of misconduct are leveled against specific UNRWA staff, the agency launches an investigation and, should the facts be established, imposes administrative and/or disciplinary measures, up to separation from service.”

It added: “The conversation reported with a resident of Gaza is, however, far too vague for the agency to initiate an investigation into the allegation made.”

Hamas informants

The Unit 504 officers told Channel 12 that their calls included ones with Hamas members themselves — even those in the group’s elite Nukhba force.

Some of them were interested in sharing information in order to exact revenge against rivals within the terror group, one of the Unit 504 officers told Channel 12. Some apparently believe that Hamas faces its downfall, and others are hoping to receive something in return, possibly assistance in fleeing the Strip.

The intel provided has included the location of various Hamas forces, ambushes, tunnel shafts, and boobytrapped homes, an officer said, valuable information that is passed along to troops on the ground or to the Israeli Air Force.

“People who once fought shoulder to shoulder with Hamas fighters are now speaking with us, and it’s not as if we tried to convince them,” another officer stated.

Internally displaced Palestinian children living in a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), walk across a wet courtyard following overnight rainstorms in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2023, during the Israel-Hamas war. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Other Hamas members have provided key intelligence after their arrest by Israeli troops on the ground, and Unit 504 has been tasked with interrogating hundreds of such suspects.

Some informants still in Gaza even agreed to provide 360-degree footage of certain key roads in Gaza, passing it along to Unit 504. The footage has been used by Israeli grounds troops to train via virtual reality headsets, Channel 12 reported.

READ MORE: Some 300 Gaza detainees questioned, give vital details on Hamas bases in hospitals — IDF

Channel 12 pressed an officer on how Unit 504 and the rest of the intelligence apparatus had failed to predict the October 7 onslaught if it has such a degree of information on what is going on outside Israel’s borders.

The officer did not offer a response, repeating the IDF’s line pledging to investigate everything that went wrong after the war.

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