A UN aid agency that helps Palestinians in Gaza on Friday criticized the territory’s Hamas rulers after discovering a tunnel running under two of its schools for boys.
Hamas has built a sophisticated network of tunnels in Gaza used for smuggling, storing weapons and for gunmen to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks.
Israel has long accused Hamas of exploiting civilian infrastructure and of using supplies for military installations instead of civilian projects.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) said it “condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms.”
“It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way,” it said, adding that it “robustly intervened and protested to Hamas.”
The agency said it is sealing the tunnel under its premises and will ban students and staff from the building until the issue is resolved.
The tunnel was found on Thursday last week under the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School and the Maghazi Preparatory Boys School during construction work, the UN agency said.
Both schools were empty at the time due to summer vacation.
UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said the tunnel “has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way.”
Hamas denied that it or any other militant group built the tunnel, saying on Friday that it “strongly condemned” the UNRWA statement.
The statement would be exploited by Israel to “justify its crimes,” Hamas said.
Hamas had clarified the issue “with all factions and resistance forces, who clearly stated they had no actions related to the resistance in the said location,” it said, adding that it respected UNRWA’s work.
During the 2014 war, Hamas gunmen on several occasions made their way into Israel through a tunnel, although they did not reach civilian areas.
Israel destroyed 32 tunnels during that conflict and has since made neutralizing the tunnel threat a top priority.
Gaza tunnels also stretch into Egypt, mainly for smuggling.
Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, enforced a blockade on Gaza a decade ago when Hamas took over the territory from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Muslim militant group has fought three wars with Israel since then.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his group “strongly condemns UNRWA’s allegations.”
Barhoum said Hamas clarified the issue with other militant groups who denied having any “resistance-related works” in the area.
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