Hamas is definitely rebuilding the tunnels underneath the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli media reported last week. The evidence that digging activities have resumed has been lingering for months, but Palestinian sources confirmed that the terror organization has taken the digging to a higher level.
The Hebrew news site Walla reported on Wednesday that Hamas is using a Bagger 288, a German mining machine also known as a bucket-wheel excavator. It is unclear how Hamas succeeded to smuggle the excavator into Gaza.
The new tunnel activity is visible from the Israeli side of the border. Bulldozers are doing at least part of the digging and cleanup, while Hamas is using a mixture of cement (when available) and wooden boards for the construction.
Israel has been forced by the international community to resume deliveries of cement to the Gaza strip. In March, 1,000 tons of cement were allowed into Gaza via the Keren Shalom border crossing. The cement was transferred in 175 truckloads. As of now, more than 20,000 tons of cement have been imported into Gaza by Israel.
Senior security sources confirmed the report about the use of the Krupp Bagger 288, adding that Hamas’ true aim is to dig the tunnels at high speed, and that they are focusing on producing short-range rockets and mortars, which are more difficult for the Iron Dome missile defense system to shoot down.
Until now, the terror tunnels in Gaza were the result of manual labor. In August 2014, a disgruntled Gaza resident wrote a letter that was smuggled to Israel about his experience with forced labor in the Gaza tunnel industry. In the letter, the Palestinian wrote that his father was murdered by Hamas and that Hamas members seized his metalwork shop to produce M-75 rockets. After he had been forced into severe financial straits, Hamas offered him a ”job.”
He was picked up in a windowless truck with other Palestinians and brought to an unknown building site. He was then forced to enter a hole in the ground and had to dig tunnels in intense shifts lasting ten days.
“We walked for a few hundred meters, and when we got to the end, two Hamas members were waiting for us. They gave us working tools and explained to us what to do in order to make the tunnel longer,” reported the writer. He described the grueling labor in unventilated shafts as Hamas guards shouted and, in some cases, assaulted the workers. After the shifts, the workers were transported home and given a paltry wage. They did not know where they had been digging.
Hamas spokesperson Husam Badran told Al Jazeera last year that hundreds of Palestinian men have died digging the tunnels that were destroyed in Operation Protective Edge (“Tzuk Ethan” in Hebrew) in the summer of 2014. “Hundreds of our men were martyred digging the tunnels during the previous lull period. …The mujahideen of the Al-Qassam Brigades were getting ready in the tunnels,” the spokesman said.
Among the hundreds who died in the digging, at least nine were children, reported the Journal of Palestine Studies in 2012, indicating how forced child labor was part of the Hamas tunnel enterprise.
The Times of Israel reported last month that Iran is funding the renewed tunnel digging in the Gaza Strip. Tehran has sent tens of millions of dollars to Hamas’ military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qasam, to help rebuild the tunnels and replenish Hamas’ rocket arsenal. The report was based on information from unnamed intelligence sources. Iran and Qatar are reportedly also paying the salaries of the 23,000 Hamas employees in Gaza in order to prevent the Hamas regime from collapsing. More