IDF reveals images of residential buildings built atop Hamas tunnels
'Images prove Hamas continues to operate in residential areas with intent of taking advantage of civilians'
The Israeli army has revealed aerial imagery of what it says are civilian buildings built on top of tunnels where hostile Hamas military activity is underway in the northern Gaza Strip.
In a conversation with reporters Wednesday, the head of IDF Southern Command, Major General Eyal Zamir, said that the images prove Hamas continues to operate in residential areas with the intent of taking advantage of a civilian environment to protect its forces.
The general added "They are preparing their infrastructure for the next conflict within a civilian space. Their goal, of course, is to make things difficult for us…if we choose to operate then they will naturally seek to delegitimize the State of Israel for operating in a civilian area to protect itself."
One of the structures highlighted in the images is a 6 story residential building. Zamir said that during its construction Hamas took the opportunity to build tunnel infrastructure underneath the building.
The other building is a family home that houses 6 children among others according to the general. Zamir stated that from his perspective, both buildings are legitimate military targets – "Those present are endangering themselves and their families". The head of Southern Command added that there were other similar structures throughout the Gaza strip, but that the two buildings highlighted in the images serve as representative examples.
There were no indications that the tunnels under the buildings reach into Israeli territory. The vast majority of Hamas tunnels run underneath Gaza itself, and are generally referred to by the IDF as "defensive tunnel infrastructure".
These underground structures serve as bunkers, command and control centers, escape routes and storage facilities. Defensive tunnel systems are one of the reasons that most members of the Hamas leadership have emerged unscathed from recent conflicts with Israel. Tunnels that reach into Israel are known as "offensive tunnels". Zamir noted that the IDF acts when it identifies an offensive tunnel system.
Israel is currently in the process of constructing a barrier along the length of the Gaza border which will run both below and above ground. It will be fitted with advanced systems that have the capability to detect nearby tunnels. In the next few months the project is expected to gain steam, with a significant intensification of construction work. Zamir said it would take "about 2 years" for the barrier to be completed. He added that he hoped no one would seek to challenge Israel in the interim period. There is concern that Hamas could choose to make use of its expensive tunnel project before it becomes obsolete, though the consensus is that the organization is not seeking another round of war at the moment.
The general stressed that the Gaza front is relatively stable for the time being, and that the IDF perceives Hamas to be deterred. He added that the group also acts to restrain other organizations which seek to instigate violence. Nearly all the cases of rocket and mortar fire originating from the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge in 2014 have been carried out by organizations other than Hamas. Zamir noted however, that the situation could still escalate easily despite the current stability.
Shai Ben-Ari is the i24NEWS Senior Defense Correspondent
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