Israel published video on Sunday of what it described as a tunnel dug by Palestinian militants under Gaza’s biggest hospital, a focus of its search-and-destroy missions against Hamas in a war now in its seventh week.
While acknowledging that it has a network of hundreds of kilometres of secret tunnels, bunkers and access shafts throughout the Palestinian enclave, Hamas has denied that these are located in civilian infrastructure like hospitals.
In an update on operations in Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the Israeli military said its engineers had uncovered a tunnel 10 metres deep and running 55 metres to a blast-proof door.
“This type of door is used by the Hamas terrorist organisation to block Israeli forces from entering the command centres and the underground assets belonging to Hamas,” said a military statement accompanied by video showing a narrow passage with arched concrete roofing, ending at a grey door.
The statement did not say what was beyond the door. The tunnel had been accessed through a shaft discovered in a shed within the al-Shifa compound that contained munitions, it said.
Al-Shifa hospital has become a focal point for Israeli operations, with the army claiming Hamas uses it as a base. Gaza’s Hamas rulers and medical staff at the hospital have denied the accusations.
Military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters the entrance was uncovered when a military bulldozer knocked down the outside wall of the hospital complex and found a fortified shaft with a spiral staircase descending 10 metres.
“It’s a huge one which has metal (spiral) stairs, then it goes along for 55 metres … and reaches a blast door,” said Hagari, indicating troops had not yet tried to open the door for fear it would be booby trapped.
Beyond the door, intelligence suggested either the tunnel would either split or there would be “a big room for command and control”, Hagari added, saying troops would continue searching the area as there could be access shafts from nearby houses.
When the army first entered al-Shifa on Wednesday, there were “around 2,000 people inside”, Hagari said, describing the huge hospital complex as covering an area of “more than 20 acres”, or eight hectares.
Since then, health officials in Hamas-run Gaza say Israel’s relentless campaign has killed at least 13,000 people, also mostly civilians.
The visit came after hundreds fled the hospital following what al-Shifa’s director said were Israeli army orders for it to be emptied, with an Agence France-Presse journalist seeing crowds of sick, injured and displaced people fleeing on foot.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse