Israeli Forces Conduct Operation At Al-Shifa Hospital In Gaza
Israeli forces conduct operation at Al-Shifa hospital in Gazaas its military conducted a "targeted" operation against Hamas early Wednesday morning where thousands of Palestinians are believed to be seeking shelter. Al-Shifa Hospital, facing fuel shortages and operational challenges, has seen a rapid deterioration of conditions amid intense fighting.
Doctors have warned of a "catastrophic" situation for patients, staff, and displaced individuals still within the hospital. The raid on Wednesday has prompted international criticism.
In a statement posted online, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated that they initiated "a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital." Khader Al-Za'anoun, a reporter for the Palestinian news agency Wafa, provided an account of heavy fighting during the operation.
Explosions are shaking the buildings of Al-Shifa Hospital … which is besieged from all four directions, following the launching of rocket and artillery shells in the vicinity of the hospital.- Khader Al-Za'anoun
Al Za'anoun reported that Israeli forces had entered the hospital with a significant number of soldiers and military vehicles, including tanks, armored vehicles, troop carriers, and bulldozers. They were reportedly preventing anyone from leaving.
A senior Israeli defense official, speaking with journalists earlier on Wednesday, mentioned that Israeli soldiers were conducting search and interrogation operations with young men amidst intense and violent gunfire inside the hospital. The official added that the Israeli army was urging young men through megaphones to raise their hands, come out, and surrender.
Hamas' government media office claimed that Al-Shifa is now under the control of Israeli forces and held the Israeli occupation fully responsible for the lives and safety of medical personnel, the wounded, the sick, premature children, and the displaced, according to a statement.
As of now, Israel has not commented on whether it has full control of Al-Shifa. However, in a briefing delivered almost 12 hours into the raid, a senior Israeli defense official mentioned that soldiers had uncovered weapons at the hospital, a claim dismissed by Hamas as a "blatant lie and cheap propaganda."
According to an Israeli radio report earlier in the day, the army has not found any indication of hostages inside the hospital. Israel accuses Hamas of using the large hospital complex for military purposes, claiming that this jeopardizes the hospital's protected status under international law.
In a statement on Wednesday, Hamas and hospital officials rejected Israel's claims that a command center was built under the hospital. Prior to the raid, the White House and the Pentagon asserted that Hamas was storing weapons and operating a command center from Al-Shifa Hospital.
The Pentagon mentioned having newly declassified intelligence indicating that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were using hospitals, including Al-Shifa, to conceal and support their military operations and hold hostages. However, John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, clarified later that the U.S. had not approved the specific operation around Al-Shifa Hospital and did not endorse any of Israel's military plans. He emphasized that it was not a focus of U.S. President Joe Biden's phone call on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He emphasized that the U.S. firmly believes that Israel should refrain from targeting hospitals in Gaza from the air and that civilians must be shielded from the crossfire. Human rights organizations strongly condemned Israel's raid on Al-Shifa, with the World Health Organization and Palestinian health officials expressing concern as they reported a loss of communication with staff inside the hospital.
In recent days, international pressure on the Israeli government has intensified, fueled by reports of dire conditions at Gaza's other fuel-starved hospitals and severe shortages of food and water. Martin Griffiths, the United Nations' Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated that he was "appalled by reports of military raids in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza."
The protection of newborns, patients, medical staff and all civilians must override all other concerns. Hospitals are not battlegrounds.- Martin Griffiths
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Minister of Health based in Ramallah, Mai Al-Kaila, characterized the Israeli military's entry into Al-Shifa as a "crime against humanity." Simultaneously, the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled it "a violation of international humanitarian law."
The IDF stated on Wednesday that it had consistently warned for weeks about Hamas' "continued military use of the Shifa hospital jeopardizes its protected status." The IDF claimed to have notified relevant authorities on Tuesday, demanding that all military activities within the hospital cease within 12 hours. Contrarily, a doctor inside Al-Shifa said that they were given only 30 minutes' warning before the Israeli operation commenced.
"We were asked to stay clear of the windows and the balconies. We can hear the armored vehicles, they are very close to the entrance of the complex," Dr. Khaled Abu Samra said.
The director-general of Gaza hospitals, Zaqout, stated that neonatal babies in Al-Shifa Hospital are in "severe danger" as conditions continue to deteriorate.
"On evacuating the hospital…we have said numerous times there is no place to move 40 incubators outside the hospital," Zaqout said.
Independent confirmation of his assessment of the situation was not available. However, earlier reports featured images released by Al-Shifa, depicting newborn babies taken off failed incubators and wrapped in foil in a desperate attempt to keep them alive after oxygen supplies ran out.
According to the latest reports from the hospital, hundreds of staff and patients, along with several thousand seeking shelter from Israel's air and ground offensive, are still inside Al-Shifa.
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.- Israeli statement
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, declared war on Israel, and Israel launched a "complete siege" of the enclave following Hamas' terror attacks on October 7. Hamas, in a statement, blamed both Israel and the United States for the Israeli army raid on Al-Shifa Hospital.
The statement accused the US of supporting Israel's "false narrative" about Hamas using Al-Shifa as a command and control base, claiming that it gave Israel a "green light" to commit more massacres against civilians.
Since the conflict escalated, the Israeli response has resulted in the death of at least 11,255 Palestinians, including 4,630 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah, which relies on medical sources in Gaza.
Communication has been severed among the buildings within the Al-Shifa complex, hampering the efforts of humanitarian workers and Palestinian officials to gather updated information about the dire conditions faced by terrified patients and medical staff. Omar Zaqout, the supervisor of the ER department, mentioned that people are seeking shelter inside the buildings, staying away from windows and doors.
"We don’t know what is going on outside, all we’re hearing are explosions, gunfire, screams of older people and cries of children," Zaqout added.
He reported that Israeli soldiers were present in buildings surrounding the ER, and he had earlier witnessed individuals handcuffed, stripped of their clothes, and blindfolded. Independent verification of his account is unavailable as there is no on-the-ground presence. Attempts have been made to contact the IDF for comment on these allegations, but responses are pending.
Zaqout, the director-general of hospitals in Gaza, alleged that the IDF interrogated medical teams, patients, and their escorts. "Some of the escorts were forced to take their clothes off," said Zaqout, who is not at the hospital but spoke to doctors inside.
IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari claimed that Israeli 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 civilians." The veracity of Hagari's claims cannot be confirmed.
Zaqout insisted that all the people inside the hospital are civilians, stating, "The situation is currently horrific."
Earlier this week, doctors and journalists described desperate efforts to keep premature babies alive and limited procedures taking place by candlelight as food, milk, and water run out.
Hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera that plans are underway to bury more than 150 bodies, but he expressed concern that the grave may not be large enough. Al-Za'anoun, the Wafa reporter, conveyed to the media that "the smell of dead people is unbearable, most of the bodies are of women and children."
In recent days, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah reported that 15 patients, including six newborns, have died at Al-Shifa due to power outages and a shortage of medical supplies in the Hamas-controlled territory. Egyptian Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar stated on Tuesday that efforts are underway to bring 36 newborns from Al-Shifa to Egypt, acknowledging the potential dangers of such a transfer.
The World Health Organization has documented at least 137 attacks on health facilities in Gaza, resulting in 521 deaths and 686 injuries. Over a month of Israeli airstrikes has also damaged or destroyed other protected sites, including schools, civilian shelters, and United Nations facilities. On Monday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) announced that over 100 UN staffers had been killed in Gaza since the start of the conflict, marking the highest number in the United Nations' history.