July 25, 2021

In Gaza, the network of tunnels dug by Hamas remains its main defense tool

The Israeli army calls it “the subway”: a network of tunnels dug by Hamas across Gaza, from urban areas to the countryside, from the very center of the overcrowded enclave on its borders with Israel. It presents the destruction of several kilometers of this infrastructure as one of its main successes in the last war, which ended in a ceasefire on May 21, after eleven days of bombardment.

“Hamas does not yet know the extent of the destruction”, underlined the Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, on May 23. At the headquarters of the Israeli army, located in Tel Aviv near a museum and a hospital, he accused the Islamist movement of hiding this network in civilian areas. In front of a map projection of the Al-Rimal shopping district in central Gaza City, he pointed to four yellow dots, marking buildings collapsed in an Israeli bombardment that killed 42 civilians on May 16.

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Mr. Netanyahu also marked red dotted lines following the asphalt of Al-Wehda Street, its parallel to the north and two perpendiculars, to a nearby park. It was Hamas tunnels, according to the military, that hit them powerfully – one of the craters was equivalent to the impact of a 500 kg bomb.

A deterrent tool

In Gaza, digging is a military imperative: the enclave under the Israeli-Egyptian blockade is a tongue of sand as flat as the hand. Only the frame is an obstacle to the enemy. As early as the 2000s, before its takeover by Hamas in 2007, Gazans were already importing cattle from Egypt through illegal tunnels.

However, according to Israel, Hamas has expanded this network of tunnels in the past decade, ending up investing most of its financial resources in it. It would have redeployed most of its military infrastructure, including its command centers. Most of the rockets fired during this conflict are believed to have originated from underground.

Hamas does not deny the existence of such a network. Quite the contrary. Monday, May 24, during a tribute to the dead of Hamas at the Yarmouk stadium in Gaza, a masked representative of his armed arm, the Al-Qassam brigades, boasted “The tunnels of dignity and honor”. On May 22, the brigades themselves broadcast images of collapsed tunnels near Khan Younès, in the south of the enclave, from which bodies of combatants were pulled. Their exact count is still lacking in this war which has claimed more than 253 Palestinian victims, according to local authorities, and twelve dead in Israel.

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