IDF reveals Gaza tunnel, previously used by Hamas officials, with cell for hostages

Military says 12 captives were held in the tunnel at various times; army says troops killed dozens of operatives in south Gaza city over past day; ground op toll reaches 227

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A photo released by the IDF on February 7, 2024, shows a holding cell inside a major Hamas tunnel captured by Israeli troops in Khan Younis, southern Gaza (IDF)
A photo released by the IDF on February 7, 2024, shows a holding cell inside a major Hamas tunnel captured by Israeli troops in Khan Younis, southern Gaza (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces revealed on Wednesday a barred cell area in a major Hamas tunnel in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis that it said was used by the terror group to hold hostages.

The military said a total of 12 hostages were held in the tunnel at different times, three of whom have already returned to Israel.

In addition to the cell used to hold hostages, troops found a bathroom and a rest area for the terrorists guarding the captives.

The IDF said senior Hamas officials had resided in the tunnel before it was repurposed to hold the hostages, and that troops recovered various items and weapons in the subterranean passage.

The military said the tunnel was built “in the heart of a civilian area in Khan Younis” and according to its estimates, millions of shekels were invested in its construction.

Troops of the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit and other special forces under the 98th Division raided the “strategic” underground network, which the IDF said was around one kilometer long (0.6 mile).

“The troops battled terrorists in the tunnel, breached blast doors, and neutralized explosive devices,” the IDF said, adding that the tunnel is part of a “branching underground labyrinth” that also connects to another tunnel where hostages were held, revealed by the IDF several weeks ago.

The revelation came hours after Hamas proposed a ceasefire plan that would see a four-and-a-half-month truce during which the hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war. This was the terror group’s counterproposal to an outline sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and backed by the United States and Israel. The Hamas plan would also see steps taken to address the spiraling humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops.

The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively, along with the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, since 2014.

A photo released by the IDF on February 7, 2024 show a kitchen inside a major Hamas tunnel captured by Israeli troops in Khan Younis, southern Gaza (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed Monday that at least 31 of the hostages held in Gaza are no longer alive, including Shaul and Goldin. The New York Times said another 20 are also feared dead, but the IDF did not confirm this.

Israel launched its punishing campaign against Hamas after the terror group led an unprecedented assault into southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, and kidnapping 253 to Gaza, while committing brutal atrocities including mass sexual violence.

On Wednesday it was announced that Staff Sgt. (res.) Hanan Drori, 26, had died from a fungal infection after being seriously injured in Gaza, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 227.

Staff Sgt. (res.) Hanan Drori, 26, who died from a fungal infection after being seriously injured in Gaza, February 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

More than 27,400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. These figures cannot be independently verified, are believed to include fatalities caused by failed rocket fire by Gaza terror groups, and do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 Hamas gunmen in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists in Israel on October 7.

The IDF said Wednesday that ground troops are continuing to raid Hamas sites across the Gaza Strip, as the Israeli Air Force and Navy hit targets belonging to the terror group.

The IDF said the Paratroopers Brigade battled and killed dozens of Hamas operatives in western Khan Younis over the past day. The soldiers also discovered and seized weapons used by Hamas, including assault rifles and explosives, the IDF said.

IDF troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 7, 2024. (IDF)

Also in western Khan Younis, the IDF said troops of the Maglan commando unit killed several Hamas gunmen in close-quarters combat, including three operatives who fired anti-tank missiles, and the Egoz commando units raided several Hamas sites, killing operatives in the process and discovering tunnel shafts.

In another area of Khan Younis, the IDF, said the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade spotted a Hamas operative near them and called in an airstrike. A short while later, three more operatives were spotted and were also struck and killed in strikes, the IDF said.

The Givati Brigade, also in Khan Younis, killed several Hamas operatives and located weapons and documents belonging to the terror group, it said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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