A network of underground tunnels beneath Gaza runs under homes and mosques, and rocket launchers are often placed in dense residential areas, endangering civilians in the Strip, Israeli security officials said Tuesday, citing information gleaned from two captured Gazans.
The two were arrested last month for allegedly transferring funds to Hamas operatives in the West Bank and have revealed detailed information about the locations of the terrorist organization’s rocket launchers and underground tunnel network, the Shin Bet security service said Tuesday.
According to their testimonies, tunnels have been constructed under the “homes of innocent people and mosques,” and missile launch sites have been set up “next to civilian buildings, in a way that endangers the civilian population of the Strip,” the Shin Bet said.
In addition to bringing money into the Strip, one of the two men arrested, Itallah Ali Abed el-Karim Sarhan, had been working “for the past few months as a truck driver for a company that clears away sand from the tunnels being dug by the Hamas terror organization and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the Shin Bet said.
“In that role, Sarhan was exposed to a large number of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad tunnel construction sites. Sarhan provided a great deal of information about the tunnel openings he had seen, including: the terror organization responsible for the tunnel’s construction, the exact location the digging is taking place and the status of the tunnel construction,” the agency said.
Though originally from the beleaguered coastal enclave, the two men were arrested within Israeli territory, as they were among the “thousands of Gaza Strip residents” with travel permits allowing them freedom of movement for business purposes, according to the security service.
According to the Shin Bet, a number of arrests of Gazans in the past months have led to new information about terror groups in the Strip working to rebuild military infrastructure destroyed during the 50-day war with Israel in 2014.
The IDF announced in April and May that it had discovered two tunnels reaching out of Gaza and into Israel, ostensibly to carry out attacks, though it wasn’t clear if they were dug before the war.
Sarhan, the truck driver, was arrested in June at the Erez Crossing on the Gaza border with 10,000 euros hidden “in his shoes,” the Shin Bet said.
Sarhan told investigators he had been approached by a Hamas police officer on the Gaza side of Erez Crossing, who asked him if he’d be interested in running money for the terrorist organization, the Shin Bet said.
When he agreed, a number of Hamas operatives “paid him to carry out the mission and gave him the shoes that he would use to hide the money and promised to give him support if he should be captured,” the agency said.
The 47-year-old resident of the Gaza Strip admitted he had run money for the Hamas terrorist organization in the past as well, the agency said.
Also in June, 65-year-old Faiz Mesbach Mehmed Attar was arrested at the Tarqumiya Crossing in the West Bank as part of a joint Shin Bet, Israel Police and IDF operation.
He has been accused by the Shin Bet of bringing “tens of thousands of euros” from the Gaza Strip into the West Bank for Hamas.
During his interrogation, Attar admitted that he had transported money a number of times, despite being “aware that the ultimate destination for the money was the Hamas organization,” the Shin Bet said.
Attar’s sons are also believed to have used the family home to hold meetings with Hamas officials, the service added.
“This investigation, more than anything else, demonstrates the way the Hamas terrorist organization makes cynical use of the State of Israel’s willingness to ease [restrictions] on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip by giving travel permits for business purposes,” the agency said in a statement.
“The State of Israel allows, each and every month, the entrance of thousands of Gaza Strip residents into Israel for humanitarian, medical and other needs. More than once, terrorist figures have taken advantage of those permits for illegal causes, including the transfer of money,” the Shin Bet said.
In May, the Shin Bet said it had arrested a Hamas operative who provided information on tunnel routes in northern Gaza, the group’s use of private homes and institutions to hide tunnel entries and transfer weapons, and details about the materials Hamas uses in excavations.
The security agency further said the Hamas man described a sophisticated network of tunnels which includes break rooms, showers and dining tables, and divulged a number of names of Hamas members who fought alongside him in the northern branch of the eastern brigade in Hamas’s armed wing.
The agency said then there were a number of Hamas members currently being interrogated by the security agency.