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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

No evidence of Hamas tunnels under cemetery destroyed by Israeli military: Investigation

Bani Suheila cemetery near Khan Younis 1 of 16 burial sites destroyed, damaged by Israel amid continued war, CNN reports

An investigation into a Gaza cemetery destroyed by the Israeli military showed no evidence of a tunnel system that Israel claimed ran under the burial site, according to CNN.

Israeli military officials released video Monday of the destroyed Bani Suheila cemetery near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Read more: Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal close – NYT

The military claimed there was a 65-foot-deep tunnel that was one-half-mile long that Hamas built beneath the graveyard, but CNN was denied access to the alleged tunnel when it asked.

Instead, it gave CNN a tour of the site near the cemetery which officials said led into the tunnel system and underground command center, but there was no evidence that the tunnel below the cemetery existed.

The Israeli military released drone footage that showed two other tunnels near the cemetery but did not provide video of the tunnel shaft inside the enormous hole where the cemetery was destroyed, despite telling reporters they would provide the video.

Read more: Israel proposes new hostage deal to Hamas – Axios

It told CNN it could not take its crew into the tunnel system they claimed emerged inside the cemetery because military officials said there was sensitive machinery underground and the structure was unstable.

“The whole thing can collapse,” said Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfuss, commander of the Israel’s 98th Division. “You have to walk to the edge. The edge is not secure, it can collapse.”

CNN used satellite imagery to locate the underground part of the system that Israel claimed Hamas used but found that neither of the tunnel entrances was in the cemetery grounds. But the military issued a statement that said the tunnel ran directly through the religious site, even though the military released a map that showed the alleged Hamas command center was outside the graveyard.

Military officials only showed CNN what it claimed was a Hamas battalion commander’s office at the end of one section of the alleged tunnel which had two large rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. They said the rooms had electricity, plumbing and telecommunications, but CNN only saw a dark room during the tour.

Despite multiple requests to see the underground site, CNN was denied access and only given an explanation by military officials as to why they destroyed the cemetery, making reference to Hamas using the alleged tunnel system during the Oct. 7 attack which killed nearly 1,200 people.

“My forces – at the beginning we tried to flank this area – were fired from this area, again, and again,” said Goldfuss. “They couldn’t understand why. Once we…found the military compound underneath the graveyard, we took all the measures to attack that compound.”

The military said it subsequently bulldozed and excavated that part of the cemetery it claimed Hamas used, where dozens of graves once stood. When asked what was done with the bodies that were buried, it did not give a specific answer.

“We try and move them aside as much as we can, as much as possible,” said Goldfuss. “But remember, this place, when you’re fighting here and your enemy is flanking you again and again and again using these compounds to hide in, there’s not much you can do.”

According to international law, an intentional attack on a cemetery could amount to a war crime, unless that site is part of a military objective.

The military maintained that the heavy damage to the cemetery was necessary to uncover what it claimed was a tunnel beneath the surface.

CNN reported that 16 Gaza cemeteries have been either damaged or destroyed since the beginning of the war. The military has not yet accounted for the destruction of other sites.

Since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Israel has launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip, killing at least 26,751 Palestinians and injuring 65,636.

Israeli strikes have left 85% of Gaza’s population internally displaced and 60% of the infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN. There is also a critical shortage of food, clean water and medicine.