Israeli troops yesterday entered Gaza’s biggest hospital and were searching its rooms and basement, witnesses said, culminating a days-long siege that caused global alarm over the fate of thousands of civilians trapped inside.
Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City has become the main target of the ground operation by Israeli forces, who say Hamas fighters have the “beating heart” of their operations in a headquarters in tunnels beneath it, which Hamas denies.
Israel said its troops uncovered unspecified weapons and “terror infrastructure” inside the hospital compound after killing fighters in a clash outside.
Photo: AFP / Israel Defense Forces
Once inside, they said there had been no fighting and no friction with civilians, patients or staff.
The military released photographs of a soldier standing beside cardboard boxes marked “medical supplies” and “baby food” in English, at a location Reuters verified was inside the grounds.
Other photos showed Israeli troops in tactical formation walking past makeshift tents and mattresses.
Attention has been focused on the fate of hundreds of patients trapped inside without power to operate basic medical equipment, and thousands of displaced civilians who had sought shelter there.
Gaza officials say that many patients, including three newborn babies, had died in recent days as a result of Israel’s encirclement of the facility.
“Before entering the hospital our forces were confronted by explosive devices and terrorist squads, fighting ensued in which terrorists were killed,” the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said.
“We can confirm that incubators, baby food and medical supplies brought by IDF tanks from Israel have successfully reached the Shifa hospital. Our medical teams and Arabic-speaking soldiers are on the ground to ensure that these supplies reach those in need,” the IDF said.
Ahmed El-Mohallalati, a surgeon, said by telephone yesterday morning that staff were in hiding as the fighting unfolded around the hospital overnight.
The sound of what he described as “continuous shooting from the tanks” could be heard in the background as he spoke.
After “horrible” sounds of clashes, “one of the big tanks entered within the hospital from the eastern main gate, and they were, they were they just parked in the front of the hospital emergency department,” he said.
The Israelis had told the hospital administration in advance that they planned to enter, he said. Troops had yet to enter the main building where he was sheltering.
He said that after five days during which the hospital had come under repeated Israeli attack, it was a relief at least to have reached an “end point,” with troops now inside the grounds instead of outside shooting in.
He was worried about the fate of his patients, including from any hasty evacuation, but unconcerned about potential clashes in the compound, saying Israeli claims that there were fighters inside was a “big lie.”
The IDF said the raid was essential: “Based on intelligence information and an operational necessity, IDF forces are carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa hospital.”
Israel had given Hamas a 12-hour deadline to cease military activity at the hospital, but “unfortunately, it did not,” it said.
The US on Tuesday said that its own intelligence supported Israel’s conclusions about the presence of a Hamas headquarters at al-Shifa.
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