Israel believes it found likely Hamas tunnel beneath UNRWA's Gaza headquarters: report

Children play on a swing in the playground of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Children play on a swing in the playground of a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. | MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reportedly viewed photos of a giant tunnel located underneath the central headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces believe could belong to Hamas. 

The Hebrew-language newspaper Israel Hayom reported this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed Blinken photos of a tunnel located in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City underneath UNRWA headquarters that the Israel Defense Forces believe could be one of Hamas' strategic tunnels.

According to a statement from Netanyahu's office, the Israeli leader met with Blinken in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Senior officials from the American and Israeli sides attended. Blinken and Netanyahu held a private meeting, which was later expanded. 

The Israel-Hayom report states that Netanyahu showed Blinken alleged proof of the misuse of the UNRWA headquarters. 

UNRWA has faced increased scrutiny in recent weeks following allegations that multiple agency members have ties to Hamas and other Islamic terror groups and that some UNRWA employees may have participated in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack against Israel that killed over 1,200, mostly civilians. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told The Christian Post that the agency doesn't comment on private diplomatic discussions. UNRWA did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment.

Late last month, multiple media outlets reported on an intelligence dossier that estimated about 1,200 UNRWA employees in Gaza have links to Hamas, the terror group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The report also suggested that around half of the agency's employees have family members who belong to extremist groups. 

The dossier came on the heels of the United Nations announcing that it had terminated multiple UNRWA employees accused of participating in Hamas' attack on Oct. 7. The terror group also abducted over 240 people on the days of its attack. 

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel launched a military offensive in Gaza to eradicate Hamas and free the hostages. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reports that over 27,000 people have been killed since the war began. Those figures don't differentiate between combatants and civilians.

At least 12 UNRWA employees are alleged to have connections with Hamas' attacks against Israel, and seven of the accused employees were reportedly primary or secondary school teachers. Six workers of UNRWA allegedly took part in the Oct. 7 massacre, according to the intelligence report, and two are believed to have helped kidnap Israelis.

Two employees were tracked to locations where multiple Israeli civilians were murdered, and others are believed to have assisted with procuring weapons and coordinating logistics for the attack.

Following the allegations against UNRWA, the United States paused funding to the agency. Fielding questions from the press about his meeting Wednesday, Blinken said the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by the allegations UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attack.

"And it’s imperative that, as the UN has said it’s doing, that there be a thorough investigation, that there be clear accountability, and that there be clear measures put in place to make sure that this can’t happen again," Blinken said. "We know that the work that UNRWA performs, the functions that it performs, have to be preserved because so many lives are depending on it. And so going forward, we’re going to look to the actions that are taken. And as I said, it’s imperative that the functions be preserved."

In a statement last month, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini urged countries that had suspended funding to the agency to reconsider. 

"It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation. The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative authority in the U.N. system, has already been seized of this very serious matter," the commissioner general stated.

In November, UNRWA claimed it sought further information about a report from Israeli Channel 13's Almog Boker. The journalist claimed that a teacher with UNRWA held one of the people Hamas abducted on Oct. 7 in his attic. The teacher allegedly kept a man in his attic for over a month and barely provided him with any food and neglected the man's medical needs.

On Jan. 31, a gathering of Christians and Jews on Capitol Hill spoke with congressional leaders about supporting Israel during the ongoing war. One of the coalition's requests for Congress included the complete cessation of funding to UNRWA based on the recent allegations and concerns supporters of the Jewish State have had about the agency for years.

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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