A photo of a tunnel in northern Gaza on the border with Israel has been shared repeatedly in posts that falsely claimed it shows a passage between the war-torn territory's southern tip and Egypt. The claim circulated shortly before the UN's top court ordered a stop to the Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah, which Israel rejected, insisting its military operations there were in line with international law. The false posts echoed comments by an Israeli lawyer who told the court that Palestinian militant group Hamas was using "approximately 50 tunnels" that crossed into Egypt to bring in weapons. The Egyptian government, however, says it has destroyed hundreds of cross-border tunnels with Gaza since 2013. AFP could not confirm whether any are still in use. 

"Israeli army has found more than 50 such tunnels in Rafah, connecting Palestine to Egypt," read part of the simplified Chinese caption to a photo shared on Weibo on May 21, 2024.

"How many weapons have been transported into Gaza through tunnels like these that can allow vehicles to pass through," it added.

It was shared alongside similar claims in several languages including DutchEnglishThaiIndonesian and German.  A similar photo was also shared with the same claim on Instagram.

The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures. Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, though the army says 41 of them are dead, according to the Israeli military.

Israel's retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 37,124 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

The posts circulated shortly before the United Nations' top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ordered Israel to halt military operations in Rafah "immediately", a landmark ruling likely to increase mounting international pressure on Israel more than seven months into the war.

On the second day of hearings, the lawyer for Israel, Gilad Naom, told the court that "Nearly 700 hundred tunnel shafts have been identified in Rafah, from which approximately 50 tunnels cross into Egypt" (archived link).

"These tunnels are used by Hamas to supply itself with weapons and ammunition. It could potentially be used to smuggle out of Gaza hostages or Hamas senior operatives."

But the photo purportedly showing a Hamas tunnel between southern Gaza and Egypt in fact shows an underground passage near a border crossing about 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the north.

Northern Gaza tunnel

A reverse image search on Google led to the same photo published by Getty Images on January 7, 2024, and credited to Noam Galai (archived link).

Its caption reads: "A view inside a tunnel that Hamas reportedly used on October 7th to attack Israel through the Erez border crossing on January 07, 2024 in Northern Gaza.

"As the IDF have pressed into Gaza as part of their campaign to defeat Hamas, they have highlighted the militant group's extensive tunnel network as emblematic of the way the group embeds itself and its military activity in civilian areas."

Below is a screenshot comparison of the falsely shared image (left) and the photo published by Getty Images (right):

Photographer Noam Galai also posted the photo on Instagram, as part of a series of images from the same tunnel (archived link).

He wrote: "In the photos here you can see Israeli soldiers secure a terror tunnel that Hamas used on October 7th to attack Israel through the Erez border crossing."

The Israeli military vowed to destroy the Gaza tunnels, which a study from US military academy West Point said numbered around 1,300 and covered over 500 kilometres (310 miles) at the start of the war.

Egypt, a long-time mediator in the conflict, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.

AFP reported in 2015 that the Egyptian army had destroyed 1,600 tunnels running between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

However, as of June 11, 2024, AFP has not been able to independently confirm whether any tunnels still exist as the area is restricted by the Egyptian military. 

AFP has debunked other misinformation linked to the Israel-Hamas war here.

2024-06-11T07:23:02Z dg43tfdfdgfd