- The latest developments:
- Israel says it is targeting a “specific area” of the hospital
- Army spokesman describes Shifa as a ‘central hub’ for Hamas operations, ‘perhaps even the beating heart and perhaps even the center of gravity’
- Medical teams and Arabic speakers are part of the Israeli operation
- Hamas says it holds Israel and the US President fully responsible
GAZA (Reuters) – The Israeli military said it carried out a raid on Wednesday on Hamas activists at Al-Shifa Hospital, urging them to surrender, while thousands of Palestinian civilians were still taking shelter inside the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip.
Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, director-general of the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Al Jazeera TV that Israeli forces raided the western side of the medical complex.
“There were large explosions and dust entered the areas where we are located. We believe that an explosion occurred inside the hospital,” Burch said.
Less than an hour ago, around 1 a.m. local time (2300 GMT), a spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza said that Israel had informed officials in the Strip that it would raid the Shifa Hospital complex “in the coming minutes.”
Global calls for a humanitarian ceasefire have escalated in recent days, and the fate of Al-Shifa Hospital has become a matter of international concern due to the deteriorating conditions in the facility, where thousands of patients, medical staff, and displaced people were trapped during the Israeli attack. Gaza during the past five weeks.
Israel said Hamas has a command center under Al-Shifa Hospital and uses the hospital and the tunnels beneath it to hide military operations and take hostages. Hamas denies this.
The IDF said in a statement: “Based on intelligence information and operational necessity, IDF forces are carrying out a precise and directed operation against Hamas in a specific area in Al-Shifa Hospital.”
The army added: “The Israeli army forces include medical teams and Arabic speakers who have undergone specific training to prepare for this complex and sensitive environment, with the aim of not causing any harm to civilians.”
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told CNN that the hospital and complex were for Hamas “a central hub of its operations, perhaps even the beating heart and perhaps even the center of gravity.”
The United States said on Tuesday that its intelligence supported the Israeli conclusions.
Hamas said on Wednesday that the US announcement gave Israel a “green light” to raid the hospital. The group said it holds Israel and US President Joe Biden fully responsible for the operation. There was no immediate comment from the White House. Biden was scheduled to speak at a fundraising event a few hours after the raid.
Israeli forces launched fierce battles in the streets against Hamas fighters during the past ten days before advancing into central Gaza City and the surrounding Shifa area.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas in response to the militants’ cross-border attack on Israel on October 7. Israel says Hamas killed 1,200 people in the attack and took more than 240 hostage.
In the West Bank, a separate Palestinian enclave not controlled by Hamas, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila said that Israel is “committing a new crime against humanity, medical teams and patients by besieging” Al-Shifa Hospital.
Al-Kaila said in a statement, “We hold the occupation forces fully responsible for the lives of medical staff, patients, and displaced people in Al-Shifa.”
Al-Shifa is a sprawling complex of buildings and courtyards a few hundred meters from the fishing port in Gaza City. The buildings on the western side of the complex, which the Gaza official said was the site of the strike, include internal medicine and dialysis departments.
Hamas says 650 patients and between 5,000 and 7,000 other civilians are trapped inside the hospital grounds, under constant fire from Israeli snipers and drones. In light of the shortage of fuel, water and supplies, the organization says that 40 patients have died in recent days.
Thirty-six babies remained from the neonatal ward after three of them died. Without fuel for the generators needed to run the incubators, the children were kept as warm as possible, with eight of them lined up on a bed.
Ashraf Al-Qudra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said that the Palestinians besieged in the hospital dug a mass grave on Tuesday to bury the patients who died, and no plan had been made to evacuate the children, despite Israel announcing an offer to send mobile incubators.
Al-Qudra said there were about 100 decomposed bodies inside and there was no way to get them out.
The UN Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by the “huge loss of life” in hospitals, said spokesman for the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “In the name of humanity, the Secretary-General calls for an immediate ceasefire for humanitarian reasons,” the spokesman told reporters.
Medical officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip say more than 11,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israeli raids, about 40% of them children, and countless others trapped under the rubble.
About two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are left homeless, unable to escape the area as they are running out of food, fuel, fresh water and medical supplies.
UN human rights officials said that Israel’s move towards Al-Shifa Hospital raised questions about how it interprets international laws related to the protection of medical facilities and the thousands of displaced people who have taken refuge there.
Hospitals are protected buildings under international humanitarian law. But UN officials said allegations that Al-Shifa Hospital was also being used for military purposes complicated the situation because that would also violate international law.
Medical units used in actions harmful to the enemy, which have ignored a warning to stop doing so, lose the special protection they enjoy under international law.
Israel said in its statement on Wednesday that it had given the Gaza authorities 12 hours to stop military activities inside the hospital. “Unfortunately, this did not happen,” the military statement said.
Omar Shaker, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said before the Israeli raid that warning of the attack should provide a safe place for civilians to go and a safe way to get there.
“It’s very worrying because you have to remember that hospitals in Gaza are housing tens of thousands of displaced people,” he said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Trevor Hunnicutt in San Francisco, and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and the Reuters offices – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arab Bulletin – Editing by Ahmed Hassan) Writing by Cynthia Osterman. Edited by Howard Goller and Simon Cameron-Moore
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”