Israeli troops enter Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital
Soldiers say they have discovered weapons and ‘terror infrastructure’ inside the compound
Gaza — Israeli troops entered Gaza’s biggest hospital on Wednesday 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. Once inside, they said there had been no fighting and no friction with civilians, patients or staff.
The military released photos of a soldier standing beside boxes marked “medical supplies” and “baby food” in English, which the Israelis said they have brought into the hospital. Reuters verified the location was inside the grounds. Other photos showed Israeli troops in tactical formation walking past makeshift tents and mattresses.
World attention has been focused on the fate of hundreds of patients trapped inside a facility that is without power to operate basic medical equipment, and thousands of displaced civilians who had sought shelter there. Gaza officials say many patients, including three newborn babies, 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 Israeli military said.
“We can confirm that incubators, baby food and medical supplies brought by IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] tanks from Israel have successfully reached the Shifa hospital. Our medical teams and Arabic-peaking soldiers are on the ground to ensure that these supplies reach those in need,” the Israeli military said.
Dr Ahmed El Mohallalati, a surgeon, said by phone on Wednesday 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 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.
After five days during which he said 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.
He was worried about the fate of his patients, including from any hasty evacuation, but not concerned about potential clashes in the compound, saying Israeli claims that there were fighters inside had been a “big lie”.
The Israelis had used “all kinds of weapons” and “targeted the hospital directly” during their siege, he said, describing a large hole that had been blasted through the wall of a room in an outpatient building.
Another witness inside the hospital, reached by telephone, said tanks had entered the compound at 3am. The Israeli troops dismounted and spread out in the yard, and began searching the basement and entering buildings.
“It was very dangerous looking from the glass window. The administration of the hospital told us the occupation army informed them they wanted to search us and search room by room. I am very scared,” the man said, asking that his name be withheld for fear of Israeli reprisals.
“There was no shooting because there were no gunmen inside the facility. The soldiers were acting freely as were people inside the hospital, the doctors, the wounded and the displaced,” the man said.
He later told Reuters that gunfire could occasionally be heard and he was remaining in hiding.
“The protection of newborns, patients, medical staff and all civilians must override all other concerns,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths wrote on X. “Hospitals are not battlegrounds.”
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 said it had given Hamas a 12-hour deadline to cease military activity at the hospital. “Unfortunately, it did not.”
Israeli army spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner described the hospital and compound for Hamas as “a central hub of their operations, perhaps even the beating heart and maybe even a centre of gravity”.
The US said on Tuesday that its own intelligence supported Israel’s conclusions about the presence of a Hamas headquarters at Shifa.
Hamas said that amounted to giving Israel a “green light” to raid the hospital, making US President Joe Biden fully responsible alongside Israel itself for a “war crime”.
Israel launched its campaign to annihilate Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, after fighters crossed into Israel on October 7, rampaging through towns, killing civilians and dragging hostages back to the enclave. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and about 240 captives taken in the deadliest day in its 75-year history.
Since then, Israel has put Gaza’s population of 2.3-million under siege, pounding the crowded strip with air strikes. Gaza health officials, considered reliable by the UN, say more than 11,000 Palestinians are confirmed killed, about 40% of them children, and more are buried under the rubble. Israel has ordered the northern half of Gaza evacuated, and about two-thirds of residents are now homeless.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said it had received half a tanker of fuel for Gaza on Wednesday for the first time since the war began, describing this as just 9% of the most basic needs for one day.
“Its use has been restricted by Israeli authorities — only for transporting aid from Rafah,” the agency’s Gaza chief, Thomas White, said on X. “No fuel for water or hospitals.”