NORTHERN GAZA — As Israel claims to have nearly destroyed Hamas brigades in northern Gaza, its forces are preparing to blow up some of the hundreds of tunnels it says belonged to the militant group — including one large enough to pass through a car.
NBC News was invited to Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday to examine what it believes is the largest tunnel discovered so far.
The entrance is about 400 meters, or a 10-minute walk, from the destroyed Erez border crossing, which was breached by Hamas terrorists as they launched multi-pronged attacks against Israel on October 7.
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The Israeli military said the tunnel was approximately 4 km long. and extends to Gaza City, the enclave’s largest city, although NBC News could not independently verify this claim.
As Israeli tanks passed by from time to time, a vast wasteland of mangled steel, concrete blocks and mounds of dusty sand could be seen along the path. Pod workers were repairing the border fence damaged during the Hamas incursion.
Close enough, gunshots and artillery explosions could be heard, as well as the buzzing of Israeli drones above, although no Palestinians were seen during the roughly two-hour visit.
Reinforced with concrete, the tunnel features shafts in the ground that extend vertically to what the IDF describes as a sprawling network of branches and other levels. Although the Israeli military said it believed it had eliminated any Hamas presence in the tunnel, armed soldiers stood guard inside.
The Israeli military announced the discovery of the tunnel earlier this month and released its own video of the interior.
In the past, Israel said the tunnels had been used to hide hostages, weapons and fighters who could cross the Gaza Strip without exposing themselves to airstrikes and to ambush invading ground forces, and that they also provided a hiding place for members of the group. leaders.
But the country came under particular scrutiny last month over its allegations that Hamas command and control facilities are located in tunnels and bunkers beneath Al-Shifa Hospital in the city of Gaza, the site of an Israeli attack that several rights groups said violated international hospital protections. At the time, UN Secretary-General António Guterres also said he was “deeply troubled by the horrific situation and dramatic loss of life” reported at medical facilities in Gaza.
Although the IDF released videos and photographs showing tunnels and weapons at the compound, several independent analyzes of the evidence raised questions about whether Israel had convincingly proven its claims. Hamas called allegations that it used the hospital for war “blatant lies,” and medical staff at the hospital also disputed the IDF’s claims.
Asked Wednesday whether Israel was showing the tunnels to the media to justify the high number of Palestinian deaths, Major Doron Spielman, an IDF spokesman, replied that it was more to justify that Israel had “no other choice.” than being in Gaza to fight Hamas.”
“These civilians were condemned the moment Hamas built these tunnels beneath them, because it was clear there would be a war here,” he said in an interview outside the tunnel entrance. as nearby tanks kicked up dust from Gaza’s sandy soil.
The tunnel near the Israeli border goes into the ground at a diagonal angle, which the IDF says allows Hamas to pass vehicles through.
Spielman said Israel was aware of the tunnel entrance, but not that it extended so close to its territory.
“These are the big questions that Israel is going to ask once this war is over,” he said.
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