Israel accuses Hamas of hiding weapons depots near civilian buildings

·2 min read

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel published images on Wednesday which officials said showed weapons depots and tunnels in Gaza near a school, a Pepsi factory and other buildings and accused the Palestinian militant group Hamas of deliberately hiding them in civilian areas.

The military's Southern Command released drone footage and coordinates which it said showed tunnels and weapons production sites in densely populated civilian areas including near al-Shifa hospital and the Islamic University of Gaza.

Other sites included a UN-run school, a medical clinic, a library and mosques.

"Hamas launches attacks from within population centres and targets population centres – the world must be aware of this crime against humanity and must exact a heavy price from Hamas," Defence Minister Benny Gantz said.

He said Israel would act with "precision and force" to defend its citizens.

Hamas, the radical Islamist group which governs the Gaza Strip, rejected the statement.

"These are lies the occupation is circulating to justify its crimes against innocent civilians during the wars it conducted against Gaza," said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.

"We warn that these lies may be a pretext to commit more crimes against civilians," he said.

Gaza, a densely populated strip of land where some 2.3 million people live on a patch of 365 square kilometres (140 square miles) has been a constant point of conflict ever since Hamas took control of the area in 2007.

Israel has fought five conflicts with Gaza since 2009, the most recent an 11-day war in May 2021, when Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel and Israel pounded the strip with airstrikes.

At least 256 Palestinians were killed and almost 2,000 wounded in Gaza during the conflict, while 13 people were killed in Israel, according to figures cited by the United Nations.

Israeli military officials said Israel had a joint strategy of supporting economic opportunities for Gazans, including work permits allowing several thousand to work in Israel while maintaining strict military readiness to intervene.

"The goal is Hamas weakened and deterred," an official of the Israel Defence Forces said.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Howard Goller)

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