Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Reuters exclusive: Hamas fighters show defiance in Gaza tunnel tour


(Reuters) - Hamas fighters, clad in black and armed with assault rifles, navigated the dimly lit tunnel with ease, saying they felt at home in their network of underground passages in the Gaza Strip.

A rare tour that Hamas granted to a Reuters reporter, photographer and cameraman appeared to be an attempt to dispute Israel's claim that it had demolished all of the Islamist group's border infiltration tunnels in the Gaza war.

"We are speaking to you today from inside one of those tunnels, which Israel said it had destroyed. Our men are still operating in those tunnels prepared for all options," said a masked fighter from Hamas's Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades.

But driven, blindfolded, to the secret location in a Hamas vehicle that made a series of turns, it was impossible for the Reuters crew to tell whether it was close to the frontier or further inside the Gaza Strip in tunnels untouched by Israeli bombing. It was not clear where the tunnel led.

By Israel's own account, its ground forces focused only on destroying tunnels within 2 to 4.5 km of the border, while ignoring more distant connecting passages. During the Gaza offensive, Israel's military took reporters through tunnels it discovered at the frontier.

Chatting in soft voices and laughing at times, Hamas men guided the Reuters crew through corridors less than a meter (3.3 feet) wide that are reached by descending a thin metal ladder through a tiny shaft.

"It feels just like home," their commander said. "Fighters dug these tunnels with their own hands just like they built their houses, so they live here at comfort and assurance like they do at home." more

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