newsIsrael at War

Hamas used UNRWA and USAID sacks to build tunnels

IMPACT-se identified at least 118 participants in the Oct. 7 Hamas assault as former students of UNRWA schools.

UNRWA sacks filled with sand line a Hamas terror tunnel under Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. Credit: TPS.
UNRWA sacks filled with sand line a Hamas terror tunnel under Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. Credit: TPS.

The discovery of U.N. and USAID sacks being used by Hamas to construct terror tunnels in Gaza raises new questions about the security of humanitarian aid falling into the hands of the Islamist group.

Israeli soldiers recently made an unusual discovery in a tunnel underneath Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. Behind the tunnel’s concrete walls were large sacks belonging to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The sacks were filled with sand, possibly intended to stabilize the tunnel before a concrete layer was added.

The Israel Defense Forces officer whose unit made the discovery related: “When the excavator dug down, we could see that there were first sacks and then the tunnel. We went to look at the tunnel closely and saw sacks there with UNRWA and an American aid organization markings on them. There was no aid in these sacks, no flour or anything else.”

It is not known how many such sacks were used as soldiers did not enter the tunnel, which was subsequently destroyed. But the commander confirmed that dozens of sacks were exposed.

The sacks “were found in several places in the tunnels; at least in two places that I witnessed myself,” the unit commander said. “I was not shocked to discover this, after all, we have known for years that part of Hamas’s method is to use aid funds for terror purposes.”

UNRWA is a U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees and their descendants. USAID is an independent agency of the U.S. government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance.

Questions raised

In early December, IDF soldiers discovered more than 100 rockets, hidden among UNRWA boxes, in a home in northern Gaza.

In October, UNRWA reported that fuel and humanitarian aid were stolen from one of its compounds by truck drivers believed to be from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health.

Raising further questions about the U.N. agency, one released hostage told Israeli Channel 13 reporter Almog Boker that he had been held captive by a UNRWA teacher. The former hostage said the teacher locked him away and barely fed him or cared for his medical treatment.

In November, the U.K.-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) issued a report detailing how at least 14 UNRWA teachers celebrated Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis on social media. The report included links and screenshots.

The report also noted that UNRWA curriculum helped fuel the massacre; IMPACT-se was able to identify at least 118 participants in the Oct. 7 assault as former students of UNRWA schools.

Asked about the discovery of the UNRWA sacks, IMPACT-se chief operating officer Arik Agassi stated: “It is not surprising to find weapons hidden in UNRWA bags and it isn’t the first time that Hamas tunnels were discovered under UNRWA schools.”

The discovery casts significant doubts on UNRWA’s capacity to operate independently within the conflict, Agassi added.

USAID ceased all aid to Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza at the Palestinian Authority’s request in 2019. The move was in response to legislation that would have allowed victims of Palestinian terrorism to sue the P.A. in U.S. courts.

However, the U.S. has provided 500,000 pounds of food assistance and made plans for $100 million in aid to Gaza since the current ground war began.

At least 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on Oct. 7.

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