The Hamas tunnel city beneath Gaza — a hidden frontline for Israel

The Hamas tunnel city beneath Gaza — a hidden frontline for Israel
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Updated 28 October 2023
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The Hamas tunnel city beneath Gaza — a hidden frontline for Israel

The Hamas tunnel city beneath Gaza — a hidden frontline for Israel
  • Hamas has tunnels for attack, smuggling and storage and stretch for hundreds of kilometer
  • Hostage described network as like ‘a spider’s web’

JERUSALEM/LONDON: What lies in wait for Israeli ground troops in Gaza, security sources say, is a Hamas tunnel network hundreds of kilometers long and up to 80 meters deep, described by one freed hostage as “a spider’s web” and by one expert as the “Viet Cong times 10.”
The Palestinian Islamist group has different kinds of tunnels running beneath the sandy 360-sq-km coastal strip and its borders — including attack, smuggling, storage and operational burrows, Western and Middle East sources familiar with the matter said.
The United States believes Israel’s special forces will face an unprecedented challenge having to battle Hamas militants while trying to avoid killing hostages held below ground, a US official said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted that Iraq’s nine-month-long battle to retake the city of Mosul from Daesh might prove to have been easier than what awaits the Israelis — likely to be “a lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), a lot of booby traps, and just a really grinding activity.”
Even though Israel has invested heavily in tunnel detection — including a sensor-equipped underground barrier it called an “iron wall” — Hamas is still thought to have working tunnels to the outside world.
After the last round of hostilities in 2021, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, said: “They started saying they destroyed 100km of Hamas tunnels. I am telling you, the tunnels we have in the Gaza Strip exceed 500 km. Even if their narrative is true, they only destroyed 20 percent of the tunnels.”

HOSTAGE WITNESS
There has been no corroboration of the comment by Sinwar, who is thought to be hiding underground ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive.
But the estimate of hundreds of kilometers is widely accepted by security analysts, even though the blockaded coastal strip is only 40km long.
With Israel in full control of Gaza’s air and sea access and 59km of its 72km land borders — with Egypt 13km to the south — tunnels provide one of the few ways for Hamas to bring in weapons, equipment and people.
While it and other Palestinian groups are secretive about their networks, recently released Israeli hostage, 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz, said: “It looked like a spider’s web, many, many tunnels,” adding: “We walked kilometers under the ground.”
Hamas believes that with Israel’s overwhelming aerial and armored military superiority, tunnels are a way to cut some of those advantages by forcing Israel’s soldiers to move underground in cramped spaces the Hamas fighters know well.
An Israeli military spokesperson said on Thursday: “I won’t elaborate on the number of kilometers of tunnels but it is a high number, built under schools and residential areas.”
Urging the United Nations Security Council to intervene, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for an immediate cessation of “aggression” on Gaza and moves toward “a political solution instead of military and security solutions.”

UNDERGROUND CITY
Israeli security sources say Israel’s heavy aerial bombardments have caused little damage to the tunnel infrastructure with Hamas naval commandos able to launch a seaborne attack targeting coastal communities near Gaza this week.
“Although we have been attacking massively for days and days, the (Hamas) leadership is pretty much intact, as is the ability to command and control, the ability even to try and launch counter attacks,” said Amir Avivi, a former brigadier general whose senior positions in the Israeli military included deputy commander of the Gaza division, tasked with tackling tunnels.
“There is a whole city all over Gaza underneath with depths of 40-50 meters. There are bunkers and headquarters and storage and of course they are connected to more than a thousand rocket launching positions.”
Other sources estimated depths of up to 80 meters.
One Western security source said: “They run for miles. They are made of concrete and very well made. Think of the Viet Cong times 10. They have had years and lots of money with which to work with.”
Another security source, from one of Israel’s neighboring countries, said Hamas’s tunnels from Egypt remain active.
“The supply chain is still intact these days. The network involved in facilitating co-ordination are some Egyptian military officers. It is unclear if there is knowledge of this by the Egyptian army,” he said.
A small number of narrower, deep, smuggling tunnels were still operating until recently between Egypt and Gaza, according to two security sources and a trader in the Egyptian city of El Arish, but they had slowed to a near-halt since the Israel-Hamas war started.
Egyptian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said while inspecting military units in Suez that the army’s role was to secure Egyptian borders.

LONG GAME
Hamas was created in Gaza in 1987 and is thought to have begun digging tunnels in the mid-1990s, when Israel granted Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization some degree of self-rule in Gaza.
The tunnel network is a key reason why Hamas is stronger in Gaza than in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israel’s settlements, military bases and monitoring devices make it harder to get anything in from Jordan.
Tunneling became easier in 2005 when Israel pulled its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza, and when Hamas won power in a 2006 election.
Shortly afterwards Hamas’s military wing, the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, captured Gilad Shalit and killed two other Israeli soldiers after burrowing 600 meters to raid the Kerem Shalom base on the Gaza border.
A year later Hamas used tunnels in Gaza to launch a military strike against the forces of Arafat’s successor as PLO leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
Although the military tunnels remained off-limits to outside eyes, during that era Gaza smugglers would show off their scarcely concealed commercial tunnels under the Rafah border.
These were around three feet (one meter) wide and used winch motors to haul goods along the sandy tunnel floors in hollowed-out petrol barrels.
One Rafah tunnel operator, Abu Qusay, said a half-mile tunnel took three to six months to dig and could yield profits of up to $100,000 a day. The most profitable item was bullets, bought for $1 each in Egypt and fetching more than $6 in Gaza. Kalashnikov rifles, he said, cost $800 in Egypt and sold for twice that.
In 2007 the military wing is thought to have brought its commander Mohammed Deif into Gaza through a tunnel from Egypt. Deif was the mastermind behind Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 attack into Israel, which killed 1,400 people and hostages were taken.

TUNNEL HUNTING
Professor Joel Roskin, a geomorphologist and geologist with Israel’s Bar-Ilan University said it was difficult to map the tunnel network accurately from the surface or space, adding highly classified information was essential for 3D mapping and imagery visualization.
Among the elite units tasked with going underground is Yahalom, specialist commandos from Israel’s Combat Engineering Corps known as the “weasels,” who specialize in finding, clearing and destroying the tunnels.
Earlier this week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Yahalom fighters, telling them: “I rely on you, the people of Israel rely on you.”
Israeli sources said what awaits them is formidable and they faced an enemy that has regrouped and learned from previous Israeli operations in 2014 and 2021.
“There are going to be a lot of booby traps. They have thermobaric weapons that they didn’t have in 2021, which are more lethal. And I believe they acquired a lot of anti-tank weapon systems that are going to try to hit our APCs (armored personnel carriers), tanks,” said Amnon Sofrin, a former brigadier general and former commander of the Combat Intelligence Corps.
Sofrin, who was also previously head of the intelligence directorate with Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said Hamas would also be trying to kidnap soldiers.
Daphne Richemond-Barak, professor at Israel’s Reichman University and author of the book Underground Warfare, said the conflicts in Syria and Iraq had changed the situation.
“What the IDF (Israeli military) is likely to face inside the tunnels is also all of the experience and all of the knowledge that has been gained by groups like Daesh (Islamic State) and has been ... passed on to Hamas.”


El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan

El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan
Updated 5 sec ago
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El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan

El-Sisi, Al-Burhan discuss developments in Sudan
  • El-Sisi and Al-Burhan agreed on the necessity for an immediate ceasefire
  • Al-Burhan expressed his country’s appreciation for Egypt’s support

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday received Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, president of the Transitional Sovereignty Council of Sudan, at Cairo International Airport.

An official reception ceremony took place at Al-Ittihadiya Palace, at which the national anthems were played and guards of honor inspected.

The meeting focused on recent developments in Sudan and efforts to resolve its crisis.

The main goal is to restore stability while ensuring sovereignty, unity, and cohesion of the Sudanese state and its institutions.

The meeting was an attempt to meet the Sudanese people’s desire for safety and stability.

Ahmed Fahmy, the presidential spokesman, said that El-Sisi focused on the solid historic relations between the two countries, emphasizing Egypt’s support in enhancing cooperation.

The president stressed Egypt’s commitment to Sudan’s security and offered full support to achieve political, security, and economic stability.

He affirmed Egypt’s commitment to supporting Sudan’s unity and resolving ongoing conflicts.

He added that the two countries shared a close relationship, which made it necessary to ensure national security.

The president spoke of Egypt’s ongoing role in helping to alleviate the humanitarian impact of the current crisis within Sudan.

Al-Burhan expressed his country’s appreciation for Egypt’s support. He highlighted the long-standing ties between the two countries, while saying that Egypt’s role in hosting Sudanese citizens and mitigating the crisis provided evidence of its continued friendship.

The parties also discussed the situation in Gaza and regional issues of mutual concern.

El-Sisi and Al-Burhan agreed on the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and the urgent need to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

They also agreed to continue consultations and coordination to help benefit the populations of Egypt and Sudan.

The Sudanese leader made an official visit to Egypt in August last year, his first following the start of his country’s conflict in April. Al-Burhan and El-Sisi met in the city of Alamein in northern Egypt.


Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan

Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan

Palestinian president issues ‘categorical rejection’ of Israeli PM’s post-war plan
  • Netanyahu wants Israel to retain security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarization
  • Abbas charged that the plan confirmed the Israeli government’s intentions to recolonize the Gaza Strip

CAIRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stressed “categorical Palestinian rejection” of the principles announced in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s so-called post-war plan for Gaza.

Netanyahu wants Israel to retain security control over Palestinian areas and make reconstruction dependent on demilitarization.

His plan, which brings together a range of well-established Israeli positions, underlines Netanyahu’s resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state which he sees as a security threat.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has received a written message from Abbas which calls for a global conference to adopt a comprehensive peace plan with international guarantees and a timeline for implementation of the ending of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Abbas has called on the league to support Palestine in obtaining full membership of the UN.

The message urged countries that have not yet recognized Palestine to do so.

Aboul Gheit received Ambassador Muhannad Al-Aklouk, representative of Palestine to the bloc, at the headquarters of the general secretariat, and Al-Aklouk had brought a message from Abbas.

Jamal Rushdi, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the president’s message included a categorical Palestinian rejection of the principles announced by the Israeli prime minister for the so-called “day after of the war.”

The message included a warning of the danger of those principles — especially the denial of the existence of the Palestinian people, and insisting on imposing Israeli sovereignty on the land extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Abbas charged that the plan confirmed the Israeli government’s intentions to recolonize the Gaza Strip and perpetuate the occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem through plans to build thousands of settlement units.

Rushdi said that the message warned that the goal of the Israeli government was not only to undermine the chances of peace based on the two-state solution, but also to intensify ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

The president’s message included the affirmation that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the State of Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority is ready to assume the responsibilities of governance in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and is prepared to work toward establishing security and peace, as well as stability, in the region within the framework of a comprehensive peace plan.

The message called on the Arab League’s chief to continue working for a ceasefire; the provision of humanitarian aid; the return of displaced people to their homes in the north; the prevention of their displacement; and a halt to Israel’s expansionist plans and practices in the Gaza Strip.

Aboul Gheit confirmed to Al-Aklouk that he would continue to work to achieve all the goals highlighted in the president’s message — most notably an immediate ceasefire, working to bring aid in urgently and sustainably, and standing with full force against the displacement plan.

Aboul Gheit stressed that stopping the war remained a fundamental priority for the Arab League and its member states.

He reiterated that the Palestinians, Arabs, and the world always rejected the displacement plan.

Aboul Gheit pointed out that addressing the humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israeli aggression could not be achieved in isolation from a settlement aiming at the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

He emphasized that the Palestinians were capable of governing themselves.

Aboul Gheit added that the continuation of the occupation was no longer possible and that the two-state solution remained the only formula capable of achieving security, peace, and stability between Palestinians and Israelis in the region and the world.


Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
  • Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes
  • Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan

JERUSALEM: Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.
Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes. The site is also revered by Jews as vestige of their two ancient temples. Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel’s 18 percent Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.
That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas’ cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.
But Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.
“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.
He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.
A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.


Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
Updated 29 February 2024
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Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
  • Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them

MOSUL, Iraq: A Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq on Thursday killed two fighters from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Iraqi security sources said.
Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them, two security sources told Reuters.
There has been a long-running Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the PKK, YBS and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which are all regarded as terrorist groups by Ankara.


Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
Updated 29 February 2024
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Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda
DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.