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Beneath the densely populated and besieged neighborhoods of the Gaza Strip, there is a network of tunnels.

This subterranean fortress, nicknamed “Gaza metro” by the Israel Defense Forces, is where Hamas militants smuggle weapons, plan attacks and – so it is believed – keep guard over scores of Israeli hostages.

It is also where the next stage of the conflict is heading. With Israeli ground forces now on the outskirts of Gaza City, specialists from a tunnel-warfare unit known as Samur – or “weasels” in Hebrew – may soon be taking the conflict underground.

Brian Glyn Williams, a UMass Dartmouth scholar who has studied tunnel warfare, explains that Israeli forces have some advantages: They have long known about the tunnels, have some previous experience fighting in them and have designed specialized weapons, including “sponge bombs” that contain expanding foam that sets and seals off entrances.

But Williams adds that historic examples of subterranean battles offer a warning: “Tunnel warfare tends to lessen many advantages a stronger, more advanced attacker might otherwise expect − and to favor the defenders hidden underground.”

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Matt Williams

Senior International Editor

A Hamas fighter steps out of a tunnel during a 2014 public demonstration of the group’s military abilities. Yousef Masoud/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In Gaza, the underground war between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters in the tunnels is set to begin

Brian Glyn Williams, UMass Dartmouth

The Israel Defense Forces said its troops had attacked Hamas gunmen in a tunnel and killed fighters who emerged to attack their positions in northwest Gaza.

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