Khan Younis Refugee Camp, July 27 – Hundreds of Hamas personnel and civilian workers in the underground system crisscrossing this militant stronghold were forced above ground today when a team of laborers was misdirected and dug a passage into the Mediterranean, allowing hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of water into the system.
Evacuation of the tunnels in the camp began in earnest sometime after midday Wednesday when, according to witnesses, fighters, workers, and child laborers scurried out of the passages via shafts in homes, mosques, schools, and public health facilities. No deaths or injuries were reported in the incident, but use of the subterranean passages in the vicinity has been made impossible for the foreseeable future.
Worshipers at the Saad Ali Mosque in the southwestern section of the camp were forced to interrupt midday prayers to allow several dozen men to flee through the building, from a hole in the ground behind a concealed partition next to a side wall. The men were followed by a harried group of boys holding shovels, pails, and picks, some of whose clothes were soaked from the thighs down.
A similar sight greeted summer camp attendees and staff at a UNRWA school who were about to sit down for lunch. Falestin Jaabari, 19, a counselor at the camp, told reporters there was a sudden stampede from a storage room next to the principal’s office.
“Somebody’s started yelling about a flood, but I couldn’t see anything, and nobody was sure what direction to go, or even to look,” she recalled. “A few minutes later the story came out, and we were able to help some of the diggers – the same age as many of the kids in the camp – dry off.”
Hamas officials declined to comment on the episode. “The Resistance has no comment on this matter,” said a spokesman with wet socks who declined to give his name. “Zionist disinformation is everywhere, and sowing panic is one of the enemy’s tools. Please pay no heed to rumors.”
Experts said it is too early to assess the impact of the flooding on Hamas’s fighting ability. “Not all the tunnels were below the waterline, so the entire system might not be flooded,” explained Israeli analyst Noah Mabul. “But the water still might compromise the integrity of non-flooded tunnels in the system. It will take a while for Hamas, not to mention IDF intelligence, to determine how usable the remaining elements of the system are.”
Mabul noted it was possible the IDF or Mossad might make use of specially trained and equipped marine animals to infiltrate the flooded passages.