On Wednesday, Israeli troops entered Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa Hospital, in a daylong raid to search for evidence of Hamas activities within the facility. The hospital, already grappling with power shortages, housed newborns and numerous patients during the operation.
Details surrounding the raid were not fully disclosed, leading to conflicting accounts from Israeli and Gaza officials. The Israeli army released video footage depicting soldiers carrying boxes labeled as “baby food” and “medical supplies,” countering claims from health officials who described terrified staff and patients as troops moved through the hospital.
Israel, having surrounded Shifa for several days, aimed to substantiate its assertion that Hamas had transformed the hospital into a command center, allegedly using patients and civilians as shields. Israel’s broader accusation is that Hamas employs Palestinians as human shields. Despite releasing a video of weapons found in a building, the search yielded no evidence of tunnels or a sophisticated command center.
Hamas and Gaza health officials refute the presence of militants in Shifa, a hospital employing over 1,500 people with more than 500 beds, according to the Palestinian news agency. Critics argue that Israel’s actions put civilians at risk in its campaign to eliminate Hamas.
As Israel intensifies control in northern Gaza, there are discussions about expanding the ground operation into the south. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have already sought refuge in the southern region, where a fuel shortage poses a threat to essential services and communication networks.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted after a militant attack on October 7, resulting in 1,200 deaths and the capture of around 240 individuals. Israeli airstrikes, since then, have reportedly claimed over 11,200 lives, with concerns raised about the well-being of women and minors. The Palestinian Health Ministry’s count does not distinguish between civilian and militant casualties.
ISRAELI RAID INTO SHIFA
Israeli forces initiated the raid into the extensive Shifa compound around 2 a.m., continuing through the night with tanks stationed outside and snipers on nearby buildings, according to Munir al-Boursh, a senior official with Gaza’s Health Ministry. The troops reportedly searched the basement and other buildings, including emergency and surgery departments, looking for tunnels and screening patients and staff. The military claimed to have killed four militants outside the hospital, with no reports of clashes inside.
The Israeli military characterized the operation as “precise and targeted” against Hamas, focusing on a specific area within the hospital. They emphasized accompanying medical teams bringing in supplies, including incubators. The military asserted the search for hostages, including men, women, and children, as a crucial aspect of the operation, garnering support from the Israeli public. A video released by the military displayed weapons allegedly found in the hospital.
The raid prompted condemnation from the U.N., Jordan, and the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, labeling it a violation of international law. The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses and corridors” throughout Gaza.
In response to the developments, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed the belief that the conflict would cease when Hamas’ capacity to harm Israelis is degraded. He urged Israel to exercise caution in its military operations, particularly at the hospital.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians, at one point seeking refuge in Shifa from Israeli bombardment, mostly evacuated as the fighting intensified. Concerns are particularly raised about the fate of premature babies, with 40 patients, including three babies, reported dead since Shifa’s emergency generator ran out of fuel. The condition of 36 other babies at risk due to the lack of power for incubators remains uncertain.
Hours before the Israeli raid, the United States stated that its intelligence indicated militants had used Shifa and other hospitals, along with tunnels beneath them, to support military operations and hold hostages. According to international humanitarian law, hospitals may lose their protected status if used for military purposes, emphasizing the need for proportionality and ensuring civilian evacuation before any attack. The burden rests on Israel to demonstrate the hospital’s significance as a military target justifying the siege.