IDF discovers Hamas base beneath UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza as U.N. agency’s funding crisis deepens

UNRWA has stated that it was unaware of the sophisticated command center located directly beneath its headquarters.
An Israeli soldier inside a tunnel built by Hamas under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) headquarters in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Photo by Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the weekend, the IDF uncovered more evidence linking the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to Hamas, as the U.N. agency faces a decline in donor support amid growing evidence of its ties to terrorist groups.

In the latest discovery, the IDF found a tunnel near a UNRWA school in northern Gaza, which led to a command center containing servers and weapons for Hamas’ military intelligence, located directly beneath UNRWA’s headquarters. The tunnel spanned half a mile and was built 59 feet underground.

Electrical lines and communication systems in the underground command center were connected to UNRWA’s headquarters, indicating that the command center was utilizing power directly from the U.N. agency.

A video published by the IDF shows the power cables and communications lines leading from the UNRWA headquarters to the Hamas command center:

Upon discovering the tunnel, the IDF then inspected the headquarters itself, finding weapons, ammunition, and intelligence materials throughout the U.N. agency’s offices.

UNRWA: “We didn’t know”

UNRWA has stated that it was unaware of the sophisticated command center located directly beneath its headquarters.

Israeli soldiers at the entrance of a tunnel outside the compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City, on February 8, 2024. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini claimed that the agency first learned of the tunnel’s existence from news reports on Saturday and that Israeli authorities had not contacted them about the discovery.

Lazzarini insisted that UNRWA staff vacated the headquarters on Oct. 12 and that since then, the agency had no knowledge of any activities that had taken place in the building.

“Oh, you knew,” Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in response to Lazzarini’s claims, adding that senior U.N. officials had been invited to see the tunnel and that the issue had been brought up in previous meetings with Lazzarini.

COGAT also noted that building a tunnel would have taken longer than four months that have gone by since UNRWA staff left the building, and that the tunnel was close enough to the surface for UNRWA employees to hear the noise of its construction.

“You have to be very naïve to think that the UNRWA personnel did not know what was happening under their feet,” IDF spokesman Maj. Nir Dinar told The New York Times, adding that building the tunnel would have required aboveground assistance.

UNRWA’s deepening funding crisis

Palestinians receive food aid donated for refugees from the European Union and the World Food Programme (WFP) and distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, on July 9, 2010. (Photo: Saif Dahlah/AFP via Getty Images)

The IDF’s discovery of the tunnel beneath UNRWA’s headquarters comes after 19 donor states — including the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. — suspended their funding to the U.N. agency. 

This decision was based on evidence presented by Israel that at least 12 employees of the agency took part in the Oct. 7 massacre, and over a thousand other staff members had ties to Hamas and other terrorist groups.

The suspension of funding has raised concerns that the agency will be forced to close operations in the coming weeks. Israeli and international officials are currently working to find alternatives to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the areas where UNRWA operates.

For years, Israeli officials and independent watchdog groups have raised alarms about ties between UNRWA and terrorist groups. The latest discoveries have renewed calls from Israeli leaders to replace UNRWA with a different agency.

There have been numerous instances where teachers and principals at UNRWA-run schools have been identified as members of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

Independent watchdogs have also repeatedly found that UNRWA educational materials contain antisemitic material and content encouraging or glorifying terrorism. This video of UNRWA students sheds light on the problem:

UNRWA itself has announced on several occasions in the past that it has found tunnels and weapons in its facilities.

On Saturday, Lazzarini suggested to The New York Times that UNRWA cannot fully bar employees with ties to Hamas, saying, “Our employees are part of the social fabric of Gaza and its ecosystem. And as part of the social fabric in Gaza, you have also Hamas.”

Lazzarini added that even if a new agency were to replace UNRWA, it would still need to work with the same employees and that there wouldn’t be any substantive change.

Read more about the UNRWA and its current funding crisis

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.