Hamas and Gaza health officials deny that militants are operating in Shifa – a hospital that employs about 1,500 people and has more than 500 beds, according to the Palestinian News Agency. Palestinians and rights groups say Israel has ruthlessly threatened civilians as it seeks to root out Hamas.
As Israel tightens its grip on northern Gaza, leaders have talked about expanding the ground operation south to root out Hamas. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have already crowded into the territory’s south, where a worsening fuel shortage threatens to cripple the delivery of humanitarian services and shut down mobile phone and internet services.
The war between Israel and Hamas erupted after the militant group killed around 1,200 people and seized around 240 prisoners in an October 7 attack that shattered Israelis’ sense of security.
Israeli airstrikes have since killed more than 11,200 people, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, which coordinates with the ministry’s branch in Hamas-ruled Gaza. A further 2,700 have been reported missing, most of whom are believed to be buried under the rubble. The ministry’s count does not distinguish between civilian and militant deaths.
Israeli forces began their raid into the large Shifa compound around 2:00 a.m. and remained on the grounds after the overnight outbreak Wednesday, with tanks stationed outside and snipers on nearby buildings, Munir al-Boursh, a senior official with Gaza’s health ministry, said inside the hospital. Associated Press. It was not possible to independently assess the situation inside.
Al-Boursh said the troops spent hours searching the basement and other buildings, including those housing the emergency and surgery wards, and searched the grounds for tunnels. Troopers were questioning and face-screening patients, staff and people housed at the facility, he said, adding that he did not know if anyone was being held.
“Patients, women and children are terrified,” he told the AP by phone.
Neither the Palestinians nor the military reported any clashes inside the hospital. The military said its troops killed four militants outside the hospital at the start of the operation. Through days of fighting in the surrounding streets in the previous days, there were no reports of militants firing from inside Shifa.
The Israeli military said it was carrying out a “precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specific area of the hospital” and that its soldiers were accompanied by medical teams bringing in incubators and other supplies.
It added that forces were also looking for hostages. The plight of the prisoners, who include men, women and children, has galvanized Israeli support for the war. Families and supporters of the hostages hold a protest march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Video released by the military from inside Shifa showed 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 cabinet containing a number of assault rifles without ammunition clips. A laptop computer was also found and taken for examination. The AP could not independently verify the Israeli claims that the weapons were found inside the hospital.
“These weapons have absolutely no reason to be inside a hospital,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said in the video, adding that he believed the material was “just the tip of the iceberg.” The military said the search was continuing, but it did not immediately show signs of tunnels or an extensive military center.