IDF troops uncovered a tunnel system in southern Gaza where about 20 Israeli hostages were held “in harsh and inhumane conditions” — including a five-year-old who drew hopeful pictures while in captivity.
Chilling footage uploaded Saturday shows off a vast tunnel spanning more than half a mile below the home of a Hamas commander in Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city where the war has seen the most intense fighting, according to the IDF.
Past several booby traps, explosives and other obstacles laid out by Hamas, the IDF said it found DNA evidence in the tunnels, coupled with testimony from former hostages, that proved the underground system housed as many as 20 Israelis, including Emilia Aloni, 5.
In the hostages’ caged rooms, soldiers found two of Emilia’s drawings that she left behind when she was freed along with her mother in November.
The pictures, which appeared to be drawn with a pink crayon, depict a happy home with nearby flowers, butterflies and a smiling sun popping out of the mountainside.
Emilia and her mother, Danielle, were held in one of five narrow holding cells located in the tunnel, each with a single mattress and toilet, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a news conference Saturday.
“According to the testimonies we have, about 20 hostages were held in this tunnel at different times under harsh conditions without daylight, in dense air with little oxygen, and terrible humidity that makes breathing difficult,” Hagari said.
Glimpses into one of the rooms show a mattress, blankets and trash littered on the floor, with the only form of ventilation appearing to be fans on opposite ends.
Another holding cell appeared to house a single mattress on the ground in a narrow and empty white room.
Hagari said that while some of the hostages held in the cells were released like the Alonis, the rest were moved and have remained somewhere else in Gaza, likely “under even harsher conditions.”
Hagari did not state which of the other more than 130 hostages were being held in the tunnel but suggested that some are seniors who need medical assistance.
The IDF added that when it began inspecting the tunnel below Khan Younis, its soldiers encountered several Hamas gunmen who were killed in the battle.
The tunnel was then secured and investigated, with the IDF also inviting some journalists to tour it Friday before it was destroyed.
Nearly two months after the first hostage exchange deal took place that saw the Alonis freed, there remains no sign of another agreement between Israel and Hamas to liberate the remaining captives.
Families of the hostages have begun escalating their demonstrations calling on Prime Minister Netanyahu to accept a deal, with one starting a hunger strike outside the Israeli leader’s home.
Others have warned that they will take “extreme actions,” including forming blockades to stop humanitarian aid shipments from reaching Gaza.
Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that military pressure in Gaza will be the best way to assure the hostage’s safety and that the war effort will carry on until Hamas is destroyed.
The terrorist group has said an exchange deal will not take place until Israel removes its military forces from Gaza and releases every Palestinian in its prisons.
With Post wires