The Israeli military is yet to produce evidence proving its claims Hamas’ headquarters lie in the tunnels beneath the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza after it targeted the centre in its attacks.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has justified focusing on the facility by alleging that the “beating heart” of the militants’ operations lies in and under the Strip’s largest hospital, where newborns have been among the hundreds of patients suffering without basic necessities.
Shortly after the US publicly declared that its own intelligence supported Israel’s conclusions, the IDF stormed the hospital early on Wednesday in what it called a “precise and targeted operation”.
Medics evacuate patients from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City hours before Israeli raid
The Israeli military displayed guns it said had been found hidden in one building – but it is still yet to release proof of its claims that Hamas has a sophisticated command centre underneath Al-Shifa and uses connected tunnels to conceal military operations and to hold hostages.
On Thursday, the US insisted it was confident in its intelligence assessment that Hamas was using the hospital as a command center and possibly as a shortage facility.
But the raids drew criticism from UN aid chief Martin Griffiths who said he was “appalled” amid mounting global calls for a humanitarian ceasefire. The hospital has become the focus of Israel’s war on Hamas, launched in retaliation for the militants’ bloody 7 October massacre, as fears have grown for the thousands of patients, displaced people and medical staff trapped.
A cache of weapons the IDF says were found in a closet at the MRI center at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City
(Israeli Defense Forces)
Details from the raid remain sketchy, and officials from Israel and Gaza presented different narratives about what was happening at the hospital.
The Israeli military said soldiers killed several Hamas militants at the outset of their operation as they were confronted “by explosive devices and terrorist squads”.
In footage that could not be independently verified, the IDF also released video from inside Shifa showing three duffel bags it said it found hidden around an MRI lab, each containing an assault rifle, grenades and Hamas uniforms, as well as a closet that contained a number of assault rifles without ammunition clips.
“These weapons have absolutely no business being inside a hospital,” Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman said, adding that he believed the material was “just the top of the iceberg” as troops continued to search for traces of the militants inside and beneath the facility.
Earlier, Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner’s claimed to CNN that the hospital and compound were for Hamas “a central hub of their operations, perhaps even the beating heart and maybe even a centre of gravity.”
Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment wait for treatment in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City
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All communication services across Gaza are now down due to a lack of fuel, according to the Palestinian telecoms provider Paltel on Thursday, cutting off the besieged territory from the outside world.
But earlier on Thursday, Medical Aid Palestinians received its final message from a colleague, an Irish-Palestinian surgeon at Al-Shifa, before the blackout. The Independent was told by the charity that Dr Ahmed El Mokhallalati said he had seen tanks break through into the hospital compound and that the buildings had been shot at. Those inside are avoiding going near windows, he added.
Munir al-Boursh, a senior official with Gaza’s Hamas run Health Ministry inside the hospital, said Israeli troops ransacked the basement and other buildings, and questioned and scanned the faces of patients, staff and people sheltering in the facility. The Health Ministry said Israeli troops also detained technicians responsible for running the hospital’s equipment.
After encircling Shifa for days, Israel faces pressure to prove its claim that Hamas used the patients, staff and civilians sheltering there to provide cover for its militants. The allegation is part of Israel’s broader accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.
Israeli soldiers carrying out operations inside Al-Shifa hospital
(Israeli Army/AFP via Getty Image)
Hamas and Gaza health officials have denied militants operate in Shifa — a hospital that employs some 1,500 people and has more than 500 beds. Palestinians and rights groups have accused Israel of recklessly endangering civilians.
Hamas has said 650 patients and 5,000 to 7,000 other civilians have been trapped inside the hospital grounds, under constant fire from Israeli snipers and drones. Amid shortages of fuel, water and supplies, it said 40 patients have died in recent days.
Thirty-six babies are left from the neo-natal ward after three died. Without fuel for generators to power incubators, the babies were being kept as warm as possible, lined up eight to a bed.
Palestinian medics said on Thursday they are increasingly afraid for the lives of the hundreds of patients and medical staff. The director of Al-Shifa Complex, Muhammad Abu Salamiya, said the hospital was “under occupation authority for 48 hours and every minute that passes” more patients will die. “We are waiting for slow death,” he told Al Jazeera TV.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday cautioned that hospitals have special protections under international humanitarian law. “Hospitals only lose those protections if it can be shown that harmful acts have been carried out from the premises,” the watchdog’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau told Reuters. “The Israeli government hasn’t provided any evidence of that.”
The World Health Organization said it was trying to arrange a medical evacuation of patients from Shifa, but was hindered by security concerns and the inability to communicate with anyone there.
All hospitals in northern Gaza have effectively been shut down by Israeli forces. The Indonesian Hospital in Gaza has completely shut down and about 45 patients who urgently need surgery have been left in the reception area, hospital chief Atef al-Kahlout told al Jazeera on Thursday.
It comes as Israel ordered civilians to leave four towns in the southern part of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, raising fears war could spread to areas where it had told people they would be safe.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement Israeli forces had cleared the entire west part of Gaza City and that the “next stage has begun”.