Israeli Troops Deepen Search at Main Gaza Hospital for Evidence of Hamas

Israeli Army/Handout via Reuters
An Israeli officer points at hospital signage at the Al Shifa hospital complex, amid their ground operation against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City, Wednesday, in this still image taken from video. Israeli forces said the “beating heart” of the Hamas fighters’ operations was headquartered in tunnels beneath the hospital. Hamas denied the accusation and on Wednesday dismissed the Israeli statements as “lies and cheap propaganda.”

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Israel said its forces were operating in and around Gaza’s biggest hospital, a chief objective in its campaign to destroy Palestinian Hamas militants that the army says stored weapons and ran a command center in tunnels beneath the buildings.

Israeli troops forced their way into Al Shifa hospital in the early hours of Wednesday and spent the day deepening their search, the army said. An army video showed automatic weapons, grenades, ammunition and flak jackets it said were recovered from an undisclosed building within the complex.

“The troops continue to search the hospital in a precise, intelligence-based, manner,” army spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a press briefing late on Wednesday. “We will continue to do so, in order to gather further information, to discover additional assets, and to expose the terror activities within the hospital.”

The military made no mention on Wednesday of finding any tunnel entrances in Al Shifa. It previously said Hamas had built a network of tunnels under the hospital. Hamas has denied it and dismissed the latest army statements.

“The occupation forces are still lying … as they brought some weapons, clothes and tools and placed them in the hospital in a scandalous manner,” Qatar-based Hamas senior member Ezzat El Rashq said. “We have repeatedly called for a committee from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Red Cross to verify the lies of the occupation.”

Israeli forces raided the Shifa complex on Wednesday evening “for the second time in 24 hours” WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, reported. Bulldozers and military vehicles were used, the agency said, citing local sources.

Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported early on Thursday that Israeli tanks raided Al Shifa from the complex’s southern side and that gunfire was heard in the area.

Israel began its campaign against the Islamist group that rules Gaza after militants rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and some 240 people taken hostage in the deadliest day of its 75-year-old history.

Since then, Israel has put Gaza’s population of 2.3 million under siege and carried out an aerial bombardment. Gaza health officials, considered reliable by the United Nations, say about 11,500 Palestinians are confirmed killed, around 40% of them children, and more are buried under the rubble.

Israel has ordered the entire northern half of Gaza evacuated, and around two-thirds of residents are now homeless.

The first truck carrying fuel into Gaza since the start of the war crossed from Egypt on Wednesday to deliver diesel to the United Nations, though it will do little to alleviate shortages that have hampered relief operations.

The delivery was made possible by Israel approving 24,000 liters of diesel fuel to be allowed into Gaza for U.N. aid distribution trucks, though not for use at hospitals, according to a humanitarian source.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday called for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses in fighting for a “sufficient number of days” to allow aid access. It also called in a resolution for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas. The 15-member council overcame an impasse in four attempts to take action last month.

Israel has so far rejected calls for a ceasefire, which it says would benefit Hamas. A pause in fighting has been discussed, however, in negotiations mediated by Qatar to release some hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attack.

Qatari mediators were seeking a deal that would include a three-day truce, with Hamas releasing 50 of its captives and Israel to release some women and minors from among its security detainees, an official briefed on the negotiations said.

Gathering the hostages for any simultaneous release, which Israel wants, would be logistically difficult without a ceasefire, said one source in the region with knowledge of the negotiations.