An indictment served Sunday to the Be'er Sheva District Court against three Hamas activists described in detail how the organization's tunnel digging unit prepared the ground for the group's terror operations.
The three, who were arrested during IDF Operation Protective Edge, were charged with attempted murder and membership in an illegal group – among other charges.
The tunnel digging outfit was also tasked with rehabilitating tunnels demolished by the IDF. According to the indictment, the widespread tunnel operations were intended for rocket launches and to document the rocket fire for use by the military wing's propaganda department.
Hamas militants inside Gaza tunnel
One of the suspects, Abdel Rachman Ba'lusha, 30, underwent a month of military training during which he even fired an active mortar round. After being recruited into the al-Qassam Brigades, Ba'lusha joined a cell whose aim was to target Israel.
At the end of 2011, Ba'lusha helped dig a tunnel on the land of one of the Brigades' operators in order to launch mortar rounds. The suspect and members of the cell dug a tunnel under a tree in an attempt to hide the dig. To allow the cell to wait by the launch site, they also built a tent nearby to hunt the dig.
The digging took around two weeks, and the end product was a tunnel five meters below ground and running between 50 to 60 meters. Fortunately, the tunnel was discovered and demolished in 2012.
In another instance in 2012, the cell members dug on a plot belonging to a Hamas activist, with the opening to the underground passage hidden in a shed. The dig lasted a month and a half – it included a shaft several meters deep leading to a tunnel nearly 50 meters long.
One of the problems in digging the tunnels was the removal of dirt and soil, as careful monitoring of the area would discover the suspicious activity and expose the tunnel. One of the suspects, Hassan al-Astal, 28, was also part of the tunnel digging crew.
According to the indictment, al-Astal and his friends would arrive at a location and spread sand around the cell's position.
Al-Astal was promoted and joined Hamas' artillery unit, in charge of mortars and small rockets. His unit even dug tunnels near civilian homes. A chicken coop near one house had an opening to one of the Brigades' tunnels running 70 meters, at a depth of 5 meters. At the end of the tunnel was a launching pad with a mortar aiming at Israel.
But the tunnels were not only used for firing rockets and mortars, but for the movement of the Brigades' members within Gaza. The indictment served against the third suspect, Mohammed Ala'ja, showed that after the end of IDF Operation Cast Lead, the suspect and other members of his cell dug a secure room ("bunker") for Brigades terrorists to help them hide from IDF soldiers.
The same operative was part of the tunnel digging outfit, and even rehabilitated tunnels that were demolished and bombed by the IDF in the past. The third suspect received a salary of some $200 per month for the work.
In 2013, he helped set up a communications infrastructure for the Brigades, in order to prevent any eavesdropping of their calls and aid their operations against Israel. Together with his friends, he dug tunnels which carried encrypted communications lines for Hamas which connected the homes of the Brigades' officials. For this work, the third suspect was paid 50 shekels per day and received his own encrypted line.
The indictment against Ba'lusha also exposed the widespread documentation effort by the terror group's members. During Operation Pillar of Defense, operatives filmed a launch of Grad rockets from the roof of a Gaza home.
It was also discovered that the al-Qassam Brigades has a chief photographer, which documented the organization's operatives. The footage is used by the Brigades for internal purposes.