In the darkness of northern Gaza, the devastating impact of the conflict is painfully visible. The landscape is littered with the remains of destroyed buildings, illuminated only by the faint light that remains. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) vehicles are the only signs of life at night, as they maintain a stronghold in the northern sector.
On Saturday night, a group of journalists, including CNN, accompanied the IDF into Gaza to witness the newly discovered tunnel shaft at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the enclave. After crossing the border fence at 9:00 PM, the convoy of Humvees switched off their lights and relied on night vision goggles to navigate through the Gaza Strip. They spent the next six hours inside Gaza, with much of that time dedicated to visiting the tunnel shaft.
Every building along their path showed signs of war damage. Some were completely destroyed, while others were barely recognizable. The once bustling city now appeared barren and lifeless. The residents had either fled south or perished during the six-week-long conflict.
The first stop for the journalists was a beach where the IDF had established a staging area. From there, they moved into armored personnel carriers to travel the last kilometer to the hospital. The only view they had of the outside world was through a night-vision screen, which displayed the shocking extent of destruction in black and white.
Inside Gaza City, the streets were filled with the skeletal remains of apartment towers and high-rise buildings. There were no Palestinians to speak to, even if the journalists had been allowed to interact with them while embedded with the IDF.
CNN had strict conditions to report from inside Gaza, including being under IDF media escort at all times. Journalists had to submit footage filmed in Gaza to the Israeli military for review and were prohibited from disclosing sensitive locations and soldiers’ identities. However, CNN retained editorial control over the final report.
Upon disembarking from the armored vehicle, the journalists were enveloped in darkness. They were only permitted to use red lights to navigate to a nearby building, where they waited until Israeli forces secured the area. The tunnel shaft was close by and completely exposed.
Lt. Col. Tom, the commander of the group, stated that this tunnel was significantly larger than any he had seen before. It was an “order of magnitude bigger” than a standard tunnel encountered during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.
Contrary to expectations, there was almost complete silence in Gaza City. The journalists only heard distant small arms fire for a brief period. The silence added to the oppressive atmosphere created by the darkness.
Around midnight, the journalists reached the exposed tunnel shaft. The IDF had promised “concrete evidence” that Hamas was using the hospital complex as cover for underground terror infrastructure, including a command and control hub. While earlier evidence released by the IDF was not conclusive, the discovery of the tunnel shaft provided more compelling proof.
The structure of the tunnel shaft itself was substantial, with a ladder hanging from the opening and a center pole resembling a hub for a spiral staircase. The shaft extended deeper than the journalists’ headlamps could illuminate. Video footage released by the IDF showed a concrete tunnel leading down from the shaft, with a metal door at the end.
The IDF spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, stated that the underground facility needed to be demolished. The discovery of the tunnel added pressure on Hamas’s leadership and provided Israel with an opportunity to prove its claims. The ability to continue the war in the face of international criticism relied on this proof.
Hamas and health officials denied the existence of a tunnel network beneath Shifa Hospital, insisting it was solely a medical facility. The truth lies in whether there is an underground network or not.
The discovery of the tunnel shaft is the most compelling evidence so far, although it does not definitively prove the existence of a command center under the hospital. However, it does confirm the presence of a tunnel. Understanding what connects to that tunnel is crucial.
For Israel, the stakes are high. The country has long asserted that Hamas built terror infrastructure below the hospital. The ability to validate this claim is crucial for Israel’s continued prosecution of the war despite international criticism.
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