Israel Defense Forces on Sunday said that Hamas is using the residential neighborhood of Shuja’iya, in northern Gaza, as a “fortress for its weapons,” publishing declassified aerial photos showing how rockets are being hidden in mosques, hospitals, playgrounds and cemeteries, as well as a cut-through diagram showing how a mosque and two adjacent buildings, connected by tunnels that extend to the Israeli border, was used as a depot for Hamas rockets.
Shuja’iya was the focus of heavy fighting on Saturday night to close the tunnels that allow militants to infiltrate the Israeli border. In the past 13 days, Hamas has fired over 140 rockets from Shuja’iya into Israel, the IDF said.
It described Shuja’iya as a densely populated neighborhood, close to the Karni Crossing and just over the border from the Israeli community of Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
The IDF said Shuja’iya was “a stronghold for Hamas terrorist activity,” and is “saturated with Hamas observations points and is home to a vast network of tunnels used for attacking Israel.” Meanwhile, Hamas “exploits many of the neighborhood’s mosques as weapons caches as well as launching pits which are used to fire rockets at Israel.”
The IDF said that since the beginning of the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge, IDF soldiers have found 10 openings to terror tunnels in Shuja’iya. “These tunnels are used for infiltrating Israel, smuggling weapons, and launching rockets at Israeli civilians.”
It said that, as well as the proximity to the Israeli border, the density of tunnels and weapons is due to Shuja’iya also being a battleground between Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with their internal turmoil in Gaza brewing since 2007.
“Both terrorist organizations have spent the past seven years actively trying to increase their influence in the neighborhood,” the IDF said. “The rivalry has created an arena in which each organization strives to be regarded as the leaders in the fight against Israel. This has resulted in the neighborhood’s deterioration from a civilian residential area into a terrorist fortress.”
The IDF said it had warned civilians in Shuja’iya to evacuate, by “dropping leaflets, making phone calls and sending text messages,” although many ignored Israel’s warnings after Hamas instructed them to stay put.
“Hamas knows that Israel is reluctant to attack areas with many civilians,” the IDF said. “The terrorist organization fights from within the civilian population and uses them as human shields. Hamas commanded the residents of Shuja’iya to ignore the IDF’s warning and stay in the neighborhood. By doing so, Hamas ordered them directly in the line of fire.”
The IDF said that as many civilians refused to leave, soldiers operated “in the most precise and surgical way possible, targeting only terrorists and their infrastructure.”
It said, “The IDF agreed to the Red Cross’s request for a two-hour humanitarian window in Shuja’iya. This humanitarian window was opened despite the threats emanating from the neighborhood, including continuous Hamas rocket fire at Israel. Hamas broke the humanitarian window when firing at Israel during the two-hour period. Still, the IDF agreed to the Red Cross appeal to extend the humanitarian window by another hour.”