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Inside Hamas’s sophisticated spider web of tunnels

TJI Wrap
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Inside Hamas’s sophisticated spider web of tunnels

Published: 31 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

PETER BEAUMONT: The tunnel network predates 2007 and can be divided into three categories – combat, commercial and smuggle. Some are ten metres deep, with pulleys and electric lights.

Hamas’s tunnels have long been viewed as a major security challenge, used in the past for smuggling and incursions into Israel, as well as a serious obstacle for Israeli forces attempting to operate in Gaza.

A recent insight into the scale of the tunnel system, which the IDF has alleged extends even under Gaza City’s main Dar al-Shifa hospital, was provided by Yocheved Lifshitz, an 85-year-old woman taken hostage by the Islamist militant group during its October 7 raid. Lifshitz likened the network to a spider’s web.

Lifshitz told journalists that after being taken across the Gaza border on a motorbike, she was held briefly in Khan Younis. “Eventually we went underground and walked for kilometres in wet tunnels, for two or three hours, in a spider’s web of tunnels,” she said.

The phenomenon of tunnels in Gaza is not a new one – they appeared long before Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and are used for smuggling and rudimentary military operations, including to mine Israeli positions.

As tunnels became more extensive, they could be broken down into several categories: Hamas-controlled tunnels into Egypt used to smuggle weapons and other materials; commercial tunnels that operate in exchange for revenue from smuggled goods; and more freelance operations.

A final category was Hamas’s combat tunnels used for incursions into Israel both to try to place explosives under Israeli positions and to kidnap the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

While early Gaza smuggling tunnels often collapsed, one more sophisticated smuggling tunnel visited by this writer in Rafah was disguised on the surface, leading to a well-lined shaft and ladder system and a horizontal tunnel about 10 metres underground, equipped with a rudimentary trolley system on a rope pulley used to move goods from Egypt and lit with electric lights.

‘A spider’s web of tunnels’: inside Gaza’s underground network being targeted by Israel (Guardian)
The vast labyrinth used for smuggling and Hamas operations has long been a barrier to large-scale invasion

‘Like fighting ghosts’: The challenge the IDF faces in destroying Hamas’s tunnels (Times of Israel)
IAF strikes on underground targets are intensifying. But dislodging Hamas will require clearing out its vast tunnel network, a nightmarish task complicated by presence of hostages

Israeli military says Hamas hiding tunnels, operations centres in Gaza hospital (Reuters)
The Israeli military accused the Islamist movement Hamas on Friday of using the main hospital in Gaza as a shield for its tunnels and operational centres.

Photo: A Palestinian man, wearing a mask to conceal his identity, removes sand in a bucket while digging a tunnel in Gaza in 2007 (Kevin Frayer/AP)

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