IDF says it uncovered major Gaza tunnel passing under hospital, university

Network stretching from central Strip to Gaza City’s Zeitoun destroyed by combat engineers; 5 troops seriously injured in battles Sunday, dozens of terrorists killed in fighting

A Hamas tunnel in the central Gaza Strip, in a handout image published by the military on February 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
A Hamas tunnel in the central Gaza Strip, in a handout image published by the military on February 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Monday it had uncovered a major Hamas tunnel network passing through central and northern Gaza, including under a hospital and a university.

Troops of the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit, the Nahal Infantry Brigade, and other forces under the 162nd Division recently raided the underground passages before they were demolished, the army said.

The IDF said the tunnel network, more than 10 kilometers (more than six miles) long, passed under the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital and a nearby university, and reached as far as the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

According to the IDF, the tunnel was used by Hamas’s Gaza City and Central Camps brigades to move operatives between the areas.

The IDF said that within the network, it discovered living quarters, bathrooms and weapons depots, as well as the bodies of several Hamas operatives.

Major sections of the tunnel network were destroyed in a large blast.

The revelation came as the military prepared to expand its operations to Rafah, on Sunday presenting its plan to the war cabinet for the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from potential combat zones in Gaza’s southernmost city, as well as its operational strategy going forward.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the matter did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.

Foreign governments and aid organizations have repeatedly expressed fears that a ground operation in Rafah would inflict mass civilian casualties. Over a million Palestinians — most of them displaced from elsewhere — have converged on the last Gaza city untouched by Israel’s ground offensive against terror group Hamas

Rafah is also the entry point for desperately needed aid brought in via neighboring Egypt.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that Rafah is “the core of the humanitarian aid operation” in the besieged Strip and an operation there would put those activities in jeopardy.

He warned, “An all-out Israeli offensive on the city would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there; it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs.”

Palestinians shop in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on February 26, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

He said that “nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing and kidnapping of civilians” and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Israel has said it cannot end Hamas’s rule over the Strip without tackling Rafah, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said not doing so would mean losing the war against the terror group.

Amid the ongoing fighting, the IDF said Monday that five soldiers were seriously injured Sunday during fighting across the Strip, in both the northern and southern parts of the enclave.

Three of them — one from the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, one from the Combat Engineering Corps’ Yahalom unit, and a paratrooper officer — were wounded in south Gaza, and two soldiers from the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion were injured in battle in northern Gaza.

They were taken to the hospital for treatment, the military said.

IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 26, 2024. (IDF)

The IDF also said troops of the 401st Armored Brigade killed more than 30 Hamas gunmen during an ongoing operation in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, over the past day. In one incident, the brigade directed a fighter jet to strike a building where a Hamas sniper was operating, the IDF said.

Meanwhile, in central Gaza, the IDF said the Nahal Brigade killed more than 10 Hamas operatives over the past day.

Fighting also continued in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, with the IDF detailing some of the incidents.

It said the 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted an RPG-wielding Hamas operative and directed an airstrike against them in Khan Younis. In western Khan Younis, the 7th Armored Brigade, Paratroopers Brigade, and Givati Infantry Brigade all killed numerous Hamas operatives in ambushes, with tank shelling, and sniper fire, as well as by calling in airstrikes, according to the IDF.

Heavy fighting in Gaza has caused staggering destruction and has left residents with little options for food.

IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 26, 2024. (IDF)

“We’re trapped, unable to move because of the heavy bombardment,” said Gaza City resident Ayman Abu Awad.

He said that starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings. In nearby Jabaliya, market vendor Um Ayad showed off a leafy weed that people pick from the harsh, dry soil and eat.

“We have to feed the children. They keep screaming they want food. We cannot find food. We don’t know what to do,” she said.

“We have no food or drink for ourselves or our children,” Omar al-Kahlout told AFP, as he waited near Gaza City for aid to arrive.

In light of the spiraling humanitarian crisis, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians urged political action to avert famine in Gaza.

Dire food shortages in northern Gaza are “a manmade disaster” that can be mitigated, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA. “Famine can still be avoided through genuine political will to grant access and protection to meaningful assistance,” he said.

The UN has said it faces restrictions, particularly on aid deliveries to northern Gaza.

Israel, which checks all trucks entering Gaza from both crossings, has blamed the United Nations for the fall-off in deliveries and said it is prepared to speed up the clearance of aid. It has also called for the dismantling of UNRWA and its replacement with another entity after providing evidence that UNRWA employees participated in the October 7 attacks, that Hamas has used the UN organization’s facilities for terror purposes, and in light of claims that a number of the organization’s workers are linked to Hamas.

Following strikes, displaced Gazan Sharif Muammar said his son’s body had been pulled from the rubble in Rafah.

“There was no one here — only children,” he told AFP. “There were no fighters at all. We weren’t launching missiles… We barely live.”

Israel says it only targets terror operatives and military sites, accusing Hamas of regularly operating from within civilian locations.

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, February 25, 2024. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Essa)

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a devastating attack on Israel in which 1,200 people were murdered, most of them civilians. The terrorists also abducted 253 people of all ages who were taken as hostages to Gaza, where over half remain, not all of them alive.

Israel responded with a military offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and free the hostages

According to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry, Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed at least 29,782 people, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes those killed as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires, as well as the 12,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

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