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UNRWA head says agency didn't know about Hamas tunnels under Gaza headquarters

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

The head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency denied that the organization had any knowledge of the tunnel network the Israeli military discovered beneath its Gaza headquarters amid concerns about the agency’s ties to Hamas. 

Israel Defense Forces discovered a data center — complete with an electrical room and living space for Hamas terrorists — beneath UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters located in the Rimal neighborhood. 

In a Saturday X post, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini stated that the media made the agency aware of reports about the tunnel underneath its Gaza headquarters. Lazzarini also claimed that UNRWA staff members complied with Israeli evacuation orders and left the headquarters on Oct. 12 as bombardment intensified in the area. 

“We have not used that compound since we left it, nor are we aware of any activity that may have taken place there,” the UNRWA commissioner-general stated, adding that the agency is “unable to confirm or otherwise comment on these reports.” 

Lazzarini also stated that UNRWA last inspected its Gaza premises in September 2023, noting that the agency conducts such inspections every quarter during times of “no active conflict.” 

“UNRWA is a Human development and humanitarian organisation that does not have the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises,” he added, claiming that the Israeli authorities have not officially informed UNRWA about the tunnel. 

The report about the tunnel comes after allegations surfaced that 12 UNRWA staff members may have participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion against Israel. During the surprise attack, the terror group slaughtered at least 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, and it also abducted over 240 others. 

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.

UNRWA did not immediately respond to The Christian Post’s request for comment.

As The Times of Israel reported Saturday, the outlet’s military correspondent, Emanuel Fabian, toured the subterranean data center during a Thursday media tour with the IDF. The correspondent noted that the headquarters is located in an area where the Israeli military previously dismantled a Hamas battalion. 

Fabian described how the IDF guided reporters through a 700-meter-long tunnel, with the route they followed eventually taking them to a hallway with air conditioning and wall tiles. The hallway also had posters of Hamas’ military logo, according to the correspondent, and a 300-meter passage in the hallway led to a data center and electrical room. 

Col. Nissim Hazan, a senior officer in the 401st Brigade, told Fabian as they toured rooms in the main hallway in the tunnel that a UNRWA kids’ school was above their heads. After walking a few more meters into the tunnel, the tour entered an electrical room that Hazan said was located under the main UNRWA building.

The room contained dozens of server cabinets, as Fabian reported, and the IDF believes that Hamas used the server farm to gather intelligence. After exiting the tunnel, the tour brought the journalists to the UNRWA headquarters, where another IDF member told reporters that his forces found Hamas weapons after a battle with the terrorists for the complex. 

The IDF forces discovered the weapons — which reportedly included grenades, rocket launchers and explosives — after the UNRWA staff members had evacuated the building, according to The Times of Israel.

According to the IDF, documents and equipment discovered in UNRWA offices indicated that “the same offices were also used by Hamas terrorists.”

Col. Benny Aharon, commander of the 401st Armored Brigade, argued that there is “no doubt that” UNRWA staff knew about the Hamas tunnel. 

“There’s a perimeter wall, a gate, cameras, at the gate they log who comes in and out,” Aharon said. “Whoever worked at UNRWA knew very well who was coming in, and who they were covering for.”

Aharon showed reporters to UNRWA’s server room, which The Times of Israel reported is located above the data center in the Hamas tunnel. The commander also showed reporters a line of cables running down into the floor, which the IDF believes could have powered the Hamas data center below. 

He also told reporters that UNRWA cleared its server room of computers and digital video recorders for surveillance cameras and cut most of the cables. Aharon said that he thinks the agency’s behavior shows it has “something to hide.” 

“Someone who works at UNRWA, who is supposed to care for human rights, to care for the welfare of the population in Gaza, shouldn’t rush to disconnect all the DVRs, the cameras, cut all the wires and take all the computers,” Aharon said. “These are the actions of someone who knew the army was coming and wanted to hide the evidence.” 

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

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