Israeli Raid On Gaza’s Largest Hospital Underway

The IDF says a “precise and targeted” operation is taking place out of “operational necessity” at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

byHoward Altman|
Israel's long-anticipated raid on Al Shifa hospital is underway.
Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies.
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The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) say they are carrying out a “precise and targeted” operation inside a "specified area" of Al-Shifa Hospital - Gaza's largest. The raid was ordered “based on intelligence information and operational necessity,” the IDF said, adding that it is calling for Hamas forces inside the hospital to surrender. Israel has for weeks been hammering their claim that Hamas uses hospitals as key command centers, depots, and safe havens for its fighters. Tunnels under and around the hospitals are also key nodes for their military operations, according to the IDF, something Hamas denies.

“The IDF is conducting a ground operation in Gaza to defeat Hamas and rescue our hostages. Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the civilians in Gaza,” the IDF said on Telegram shortly after 2 a.m. local time Wednesday (7 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time).

The IDF did not say how many troops or what kind of equipment is involved.

Its "forces include medical teams and Arabic speakers, who have undergone specified training to prepare for this complex and sensitive environment, with the intent that no harm is caused to the civilians being used by Hamas as human shields,” the IDF said.

 

“In recent weeks, the IDF has publicly warned time and again that Hamas's continued military use of the Shifa hospital jeopardizes its protected status under international law, and enabled ample time to stop this unlawful abuse of the hospital. Yesterday, the IDF conveyed to the relevant authorities in Gaza once again that all military activities within the hospital must cease within 12 hours. Unfortunately, it did not.”

The IDF said it “also facilitated wide-scale evacuations of the hospital and maintained regular dialogue with hospital authorities.”

"We call upon all Hamas terrorists present in the hospital to surrender," the IDF said.

One doctor inside the hospital expressed deep concern.

“If we remain alive, we will communicate, and if we are martyrs, we will meet in Paradise, God willing.” Dr. Munir Al-Barsh in a message from inside the hospital as it was being raided.

“We hold the occupying entity and its neo-Nazi leaders, and President Biden and his administration fully responsible for the repercussions of the occupation army’s storming of the Shifa Medical Complex, and what the medical staff and thousands of displaced people are exposed to, as a result of this brutal crime against a health facility protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the occupation leaders will be held accountable for it. And everyone who colluded with him in killing children, the sick, and defenseless civilians,” Hamas said on Telegram.

The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen media outlet issued a similar statement on Telegram.

"We hold the occupation, the international community, and the United States responsible for the safety of thousands of medical staff, the wounded, and the displaced, and we warn against committing a massacre in Al-Shifa Hospital," Al-Maydeen said.

The Hezbollah-affliated Al Mayadeen news outlet warned Israel and the U.S. against "committing a massacre in Al-Shifa Hospital." (Al Mayadeen photo)

Earlier in the day, U.S. officials said they didn't want to see fighting inside hospitals but that Palestinian militants have been using medical centers as military facilities.

“We absolutely believe that hospitals should be places where people seeking medical treatment and attention need to be and those places should be protected,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Tuesday. “We do have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad [PIJ] use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including the Al Shifa hospital, as a way to conceal and support their military operations and hold hostages.”

The groups “have tunnels underneath these hospitals, she added, saying “Hamas and PIJ members operate a command and control node from Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. They have weapons stored there and are prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against the facility. This is what we as the intelligence community assess is happening in Gaza City - how Hamas is using these hospitals to operate. But absolutely we do not want to see a firefight in the hospital where there are innocent civilians.”

Singh was pressed on where the information came from and whether it was gathered in part by U.S, military personnel on the ground in Gaza or from Israel.

“There are no “assets or boots on the ground in Gaza,” she said. “I'm not going to get into more specifics on how our intelligence is collected. What I can tell you is there are multiple agencies, - here within the department and across the administration - that collect and assess and analyze intelligence, but I'm not going to go into any further details on how that intelligence is gathered.”

Earlier in the day, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the information was developed by the U.S.

“It comes from a variety of intelligence methods of our own,” he said without elaborating.

Those claims line up with what Tomer Israeli, a former member of “Shin Bet” (Israeli Secret Service), a former captain in the Israeli Army Special Forces Sayeret Matkal, told us about Al-Shifa Hospital last month. He talked about the facility in a story we wrote about the challenges Israel faces in any hostage rescue efforts.

From our story: “It's a very busy hospital, but Hamas is using their own patients and civilians as a human shield. Basically, under the hospital, they have the headquarters of the Hamas regime, the Hamas army is headquartered there. Everything is under al-Shifa Hospital.”

Hamas decried the assessments. 

“We strongly condemn and reject the claims made by the Pentagon and the White House which repeat the lies propagated by the Zionist occupation that Hamas uses hospitals to hide captured Israeli soldiers or as command centers,” Hamas said Tuesday on Telegram. “These statements give a green light to the Israeli occupation to commit further brutal massacres targeting hospitals, with the goal of destroying Gaza’s healthcare system and displacing Palestinians to advance plans of neo-Nazi leaders such as [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Yoel] Smotrich.”

A screen grab captured from a video shows premature babies under treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit remove from the incubators and transferred to another department in the hospital after Israeli attack on Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on November 14, 2023. (Photo by Palestinian Prime Ministry/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Hamas denies fighters are present and says 650 patients and between 5,000 and 7,000 civilians are trapped inside the hospital under constant fire from snipers and drones, according to Reuters. It again called for the United Nations “to establish an international committee to inspect all hospitals in Gaza and expose the falsehoods in the occupation’s narrative, a narrative endorsed by its ally, Washington. The United States bears direct responsibility for enabling 'Israel’s' genocidal war on Gaza.”

Conditions inside Al-Shifa have worsened. Officials there on Tuesday said the hospital had buried 170 people in a mass grave, NPR reported.

"Without power to operate incubators or other life-saving medical equipment, hospital officials say that bodies are decomposing in its courtyard and babies are dying," according to NPR. "There is no water or food for patients or staff at Al-Shifa, according to Palestinian health officials."

"Our staff is saying there is no electricity," said Paul Caney, an emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, which has several medical teams working at the hospital. "People are staying in the corridors because of sniper fire near the windows and that they cannot move any of the patients to ambulances."

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he is "deeply disturbed by the horrible situation and dramatic loss of life in several hospitals in Gaza."

The IDF said that earlier on Tuesday that "the Al Quds hospital evacuation was completed. We have offered the Shifa hospital administration, alongside international NGOs, to transfer incubators, medical equipment and food, to the premature babies department of the hospital. The equipment is ready to be transferred."

The IDF also claimed that it found additional proof of "a terrorist infrastructure of Hamas was exposed in the Rantisi Hospital" when it was entered. The War Zone cannot independently verify that claim.

This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news to report about the Israel-Hamas war.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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