A large gap fills the space where rows of graves once stood.
The gaping hole is all that remains after the Israeli military excavated the western side of the Bani Suheila cemetery near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. It was claimed that a Hamas tunnel ran directly through the site and that Hamas fighters had attacked Israeli troops from here.
The IDF says they destroyed this Gaza cemetery because of Hamas activity. CNN can't find any evidence
A week after a CNN investigation found that the Israeli military had damaged or destroyed at least 16 cemeteries in Gaza since the war began, the Israeli military invited CNN to Gaza to explain why it partially destroyed one of those cemeteries.
However, during a three-hour visit to Bani Suheila cemetery and the surrounding area, Israeli commanders failed to prove their claim.
On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took CNN into a tunnel near the Bani Suheila cemetery and into an underground command center that the military said was located beneath the cemetery.
However, IDF commanders refused to show reporters the tunnel shaft they said was created inside the cemetery, claiming that there was delicate machinery underground and that the structure was unstable.
“The whole thing can collapse,” said Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfuss, commander of the IDF’s 98th Division. “You have to go to the edge. The edge is not safe, it can collapse.”
An Israeli military spokesman said they would provide video of the tunnel shaft in the huge hole, but never did so.
Instead, the IDF provided drone footage that showed two other tunnel entrances – one of which CNN entered – near the cemetery. CNN located the tunnel entrances using footage filmed on the ground and satellite images and determined that neither was on the cemetery grounds.
The Israeli military stood by its claims, insisting in a press release that a tunnel ran directly through the religious site.
But that press release also refuted Goldfuss' claim that the underground command center was located directly beneath the cemetery. A map released by the military showed the command center outside the cemetery.
Goldfuss also told CNN that his troops came under repeated fire in the area of the cemetery.
“My forces – initially we tried to flank this area – were repeatedly fired upon from this area,” Goldfuß said. “They couldn’t understand why. When we…found the military compound beneath the cemetery, we took all measures to attack that compound.”
The Israeli military then destroyed and excavated the western part of the cemetery, where dozens of graves once stood.
Pressed on how his troops dealt with the dead buried there, Goldfuss said: “We try to push them aside as much as possible.”
“But remember, if you are fighting in this place and your enemy keeps flanking you and using these bases to hide, there is not much you can do,” he added.
Goldfuss claimed that the grave damage to the cemetery was necessary to expose a tunnel beneath its surface.
The IDF also damaged at least one cemetery and disposed of bodies in its search for hostages. A previous CNN investigation earlier this month found that bodies were removed from graves.
Medical staff at Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza have also claimed that Israeli soldiers used bulldozers to dig up bodies buried in the hospital's courtyard after completing a raid on the hospital.
Under international law, an intentional attack on a cemetery could constitute a war crime unless there are very few circumstances relating to that place becoming a military target.
The entrance to the tunnel that CNN entered was in the rubble of what the Israeli military described as a residential building. After clearing the site, the military blasted a hole through a section of the tunnel, exposing it on two sides to bypass Hamas fighters inside.
Inside, a dark, damp and seemingly endless labyrinth awaited us. Without the lights on, the tunnel was pitch black and it was impossible to hear the outside world.
According to the IDF, the tunnel was equipped with lines – electricity and telecommunications – installed by Hamas. But when CNN visited, there were no lights on.
At the end of one segment, CNN found what the Israeli military described as the office of a Hamas battalion commander: two large rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen, connected by a hallway supported by steel beams.
There were tiled floors, painted walls and electricity and water. There were also large frames on the walls that the Israeli military said once contained maps. There was a large map on a table that would fit into one of the frames.
Goldfuss, standing in the command center, said he was surprised at the extent of the tunnels the IDF claimed to have found.
On the way to be embedded with Israeli forces in Gaza, CNN saw more than two dozen detained Palestinian men blindfolded and barefoot with their hands tied behind their backs.
The men, kneeling or sitting on the wet, cold ground, had been arrested by the Israeli military in Gaza. Israeli soldiers, their faces hidden under balaclavas, stood guard around them.
Some of the men appeared physically exhausted, their heads drooping and swaying as they tried to remain kneeling. One detainee lay on the ground before an Israeli soldier arrived to wake him and get him up. The men appeared to be wearing nothing more than white disposable coveralls, despite the temperature of 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Israeli military said the men were “suspected of terrorist activity and were arrested in Gaza and transferred to Israel for further questioning.”
“As part of IDF activities in the combat zone in Gaza, individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities are being arrested and interrogated. Terror suspects are often required to surrender their clothing so that it can be searched to ensure they are not concealing explosive vests or other weapons. “The suspects will be given overalls and clothing upon arrival at the detention center,” the IDF said in a statement.
“Relevant suspects will be detained in Israel for further questioning. Persons found not to be involved in terrorist activities will be released back to Gaza as soon as possible,” the statement continued.
The IDF said the men filmed on Saturday were brought into Israel from Gaza and were about to be placed on a “heated bus” when CNN filmed the scene. They claimed that detainees were being treated in accordance with international law. It is not clear how long the men were kept outside like this.
A bus was waiting nearby, but CNN could not confirm when the men were put on the bus because an Israeli soldier on the scene told CNN to leave the area within minutes.