Conflicts & War

Israel claims Hamas militants used UNRWA headquarters in Gaza

Jerusalem, Feb 10 (EFE).- The Israeli army claimed Saturday that fighters from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas used the offices of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) headquarters in northern Gaza for their operations, showing weapons allegedly found inside and a tunnel system underneath that purportedly used electricity from the UNRWA building above.

The IDF said it found a Hamas “data center” 18 meters below the building housing the UNRWA offices, with computers, server cabinets and industrial battery power banks, as well as living quarters with several mattresses.

The army found the main entrance to the tunnel, which had been blocked, close to a UNRWA school 300 meters away.

The Israeli army said it then searched the UNRWA headquarters and found electrical cables that supplied power to Hamas infrastructure underground.

The commander of the 401 Armored Brigade, Colonel Benny Aharon, said they also found “grenades, rockets, launchers, explosives, a large amount of weapons that would put any Hamas company to shame,” and equipment and documents that indicated “the same offices were also used by Hamas terrorists.”

Israel had accused several members of UNRWA of involvement in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, prompting the UN to order an investigation and 18 countries – including the United States, Japan, Germany, France and Japan – to announce the suspension of their contributions to the agency, which has said it will run out of funds before the end of the month.

UNRWA commissioner Philippe Lazzarini responded with a post on social media, saying that “UNRWA did not know what is under its headquarters in Gaza” as it 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.”

Lazzarini also said that his staff had “left its headquarters in Gaza City on Oct. 12 following Israeli evacuation orders” and “have not used that compound since we left it nor are we aware of any activity that may have taken place there.”

International criticism over new ground offensive

The new Israeli accusations coincide with a wave of criticism from the international community over the ground offensive the Israeli army plans to launch against the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

Some 1.4 million Palestinian civilians live in Rafah in overcrowded conditions with severe shortages of basic goods due to the Israeli blockade.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that he had asked the Israeli military to draw up plans to evacuate Rafah ahead of an expected ground offensive.

His office said Friday that it was “impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leaving four battalions in Rafah,” and called on the army to evacuate the area.

Later on Friday, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell issued a statement “urgently calling on the parties to refrain from military escalation in Rafah Governorate in Gaza where over 600,000 children and their families have been displaced – many of them more than once”.

The NGO Human Rights Watch also issued a statement on Friday, calling the Israeli order to evacuate the southern Gaza town of Rafah “unlawful” and ” catastrophic,” and warning that “forced displacement, a war crime, is becoming more of a risk.”

On Saturday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned against Israel’s planned assault on the southern Gaza town of Rafah, saying it would further worsen the humanitarian situation.

“There is international consensus that the region cannot bear the same intensity of military operations that we witnessed in the past period,” Shoukry said in a press conference and added that “humanitarian conditions are deteriorating, and any expansion of military operations will have grave consequences.”

Confirming the continuation of Egypt’s efforts as a mediator between the parties, Shoukry described the negotiations between Israel and Hamas as “complex,” stressing that the situation is “developing negatively in light of the planned Israeli attack on Rafah.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned on Saturday that an Israeli army offensive in Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making” on the social network X.

Saudi Arabia also “strongly” condemned Israel’s plans to expand its military offensive and called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to avert an “imminent humanitarian catastrophe.”

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