Hidden deep below the headquarters of the United Nations’ aid agency for Palestinians here is a Hamas complex with rows of computer servers that Israel’s armed forces say served as an important communications center and intelligence hub for the Islamist militant group.
Part of a warren of tunnels and subterranean chambers carved from the Gaza Strip’s sandy soil, the compound below the United Nations Relief and Works Agency buildings in Gaza City appears to have run on electricity drawn from the U.N.’s power supply, Israeli officials said.
A Wall Street Journal reporter and journalists from other news organizations visited the site this past week in a trip organized by Israel’s military. A tunnel also appeared to pass beneath a U.N.-run school near the headquarters.
The location of a Hamas military installation under important U.N. facilities is evidence, Israeli officials say, of Hamas’s widespread use of sensitive civilian infrastructure as shields to protect its militant activities. Tunnel complexes have also been found near or under some of Gaza’s largest hospitals.
Israel’s discovery of the Hamas operations below Unrwa offices is likely to put further pressure on the agency, which is facing international scrutiny after Israeli allegations that at least 12 of its employees had links to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which authorities say killed 1,200 people.
Israeli military officials assert that people working at Unrwa would have been aware of the tunnel complex, either from activities during its construction or by what they said would have been a jump in electricity usage when the complex started operating.
Unrwa said in a statement that reports of tunnels under its Gaza headquarters “merit an independent inquiry,” and said that it “does not have the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises.”
The agency, which evacuated from the Gaza City compound on Oct. 12, said Israel hadn’t officially informed it of any Hamas complex under its offices. It said that whenever a suspicious cavity has been discovered near an Unrwa facility, it has filed protest letters to authorities in Gaza as well as the Israeli government.