July 8, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

What two months of Hamas use of UN sites tells us

As the war continues into a less intense phase it is worth looking back at the extent of Hamas illegal use of UN facilities, including schools, because it appears systematic and on a large scale.
July 8, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

What two months of Hamas use of UN sites tells us

As the war continues into a less intense phase it is worth looking back at the extent of Hamas illegal use of UN facilities, including schools, because it appears systematic and on a large scale.

On Monday, July 8, the IDF said that it had begun an operation in Gaza City targeting terrorists and terrorist infrastructure. UNRWA’s headquarters was among the sites targeted. Hamas and other terrorist groups have systematically used UN facilities throughout the war in Gaza. They have hidden in them and used tunnels underneath them, and their armed terrorists have been present at schools, shelters, warehouses, and other UN sites.

It will take time for the full details of how Hamas embedded inside UN institutions to come to light. However, news reports and IDF statements provide a lot of details on recent incidents. It is important to understand this in context. 

Hamas has always exploited international organizations and the UN in Gaza. It does this in many ways. It knows that UN compounds and schools are sites that would normally be protected during a war. Therefore, it appears that Hamas views these areas as a priority and has tried to use areas near them, or underneath these sites, as command and control nodes.

After October 7 Israel carried out an intense aerial campaign in Gaza, striking Hamas and other terrorist groups. Israel’s ground operations began on October 27. Then, in February, the ground operations were much reduced in intensity and the IDF withdrew from most of Gaza by April.

This enabled Hamas to return to many areas. It returned in force to Shifa Hospital, for instance, overrunning the hospital with hundreds of terrorists. It also began to operate from within UN schools and sites that had become shelters or even aid distribution warehouses.

At the UNRWA headquarters, it appears that Hamas even took advantage of the rebuilding of the site. Ynet reported that “intelligence reveals that Hamas command and control centers, including UNRWA headquarters, have been rebuilt since December, when forces last operated in parts of the city.” In February, the IDF found a Hamas data center underneath UNRWA’s headquarters in Rimal.

Hamas knows that when it hides at schools, any airstrike on the site can be used for propaganda.

On July 6 for example, the BBC reported that “at least 16 people have been killed in an Israeli airstrike on a UN-run school in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials have said. Dozens more have been injured.”

The IDF said in response that it had struck a UN-run school in Nuseirat. “Earlier today, based on the IDF’s and the Israel Securities Authority’s (ISA) intelligence, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) struck several terrorists operating in structures located in the area of UNRWA’s Al-Jaouni school in the central Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.

Hamas knows that in this case, it is likely that it may win the propaganda war because most reports will state that the IDF struck a “school” rather than a Hamas site.

Examples of Hamas using UN sites

Let’s look at two months of examples of how Hamas has used UN facilities in Gaza and exploited the UN for cover.

On July 8, the IDF said that it found UNRWA uniforms during searches that it conducted in northern Gaza’s Shejaia.

On July 6, the IDF struck terrorists at the Al-Jaouni school in central Gaza and on July 4, the IDF also said that it “struck terrorists who operated from UNRWA schools in the area of Gaza City – the Alqahirah school in Al-Furqan and the Musa School in Daraj Tuffah.”

In June, the IDF also found that Hamas was using numerous UN facilities. On June 30, the IDF said that a tunnel was found near a UNRWA school. “As part of operational searches of civilian structures converted into terrorist infrastructure, the soldiers raided a UN school that the terrorists of the Shejaia Battalion were using as a hideout and a warehouse,” it stated.

Two days earlier, the IDF said that it targeted “dozens of terrorists who were hiding in UNRWA schools and facilities.” In early June, more terrorists were found at UN sites. On June 7, the IDF said that terrorists were identified at a UNRWA school in Nuseirat the previous day.

Hamas was operating a compound that the IDF said was “embedded” inside the UNRWA school in Nuseirat. Furthermore, the IAF also “targeted Hamas terrorists operating from a container inside the grounds of the Asmaa UNRWA school in Shati.”

Then, on June 4, the IDF also said that it “struck a Hamas compound embedded inside UNRWA’s Abu al-Hilu school in El-Bureij, located in the central Gaza Strip, from which Hamas terrorists operated and planned numerous attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF troops operating in Gaza.”

Further, in May, the IDF found terrorists in UN facilities. In one case on May 30, the IDF said that a terrorist fired an anti-tank missile from a UNRWA school in Rafah.“

In response to an anti-tank missile fired from a UNRWA school toward IDF troops, the 12th Brigade combat team operated in the school complex,” the army proclaimed.

On May 22, the IAF targeted “a compound located inside a UNRWA school where Hamas terrorists, including an anti-tank missile operative and a Nukhba terrorist, were operating,” the IDF said.

In another incident on May 14, the IDF declared that it carried out a precision strike “on a central Hamas war room commander embedded inside a UNRWA school in the area of Nuseirat. The war room was used by terrorist operatives in Hamas’s military wing. The strike was carried out using precise munitions in order to minimize harm to uninvolved civilians.”

This reflects two months of incidents of Hamas hiding in UN facilities, in which the IDF has released statements. These clearly represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Separately, the IDF revealed footage on July 5 showing Hamas attacking civilians who sought “to enter a warehouse where humanitarian aid was stored.”

In another incident, the IDF eliminated Fadi Muhammad Al-Wadiya, a terrorist in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.

Oddly, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), more commonly known as Doctors Without Borders, said that he was a colleague. “Al-Wadiya was executed by an Israeli strike. No proof of any wrongdoing on his part has been shared with MSF,” the group claimed.

In many cases, the UN does not put out statements about how and why Hamas seems to use so many of its sites in Gaza, including numerous schools.

Instead, what UNRWA said on July 8 in a social media post was that “the level of destruction across the Gaza Strip is unfathomable. Houses, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure have been turned to rubble. Around 190 UNRWA facilities have been impacted. At least 520 displaced people sheltering in our buildings have been killed.”

As the war continues into a less intense phase, it is worth looking back at the extent of Hamas’s illegal use of UN facilities, including schools, because its actions in this regard appear to be systematic and on a large scale.

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

International Organizations Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power