Israeli troops enter Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital in culmination of siege

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.

File image: Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at Al Shifa hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, November 8, 2023
Israeli troops enter Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital in culmination of siege

Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City has become the main target of the ground operation by Israeli forces, who say Hamas fighters located 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.

Witnesses who spoke to Reuters from inside the compound on Wednesday described a situation that appeared calm, if tense, as the Israeli troops moved between buildings carrying out searches. Sporadic shooting was heard but there were no immediate reports of anyone hurt inside the grounds.

The Israeli military released photos of a soldier standing beside cardboard boxes marked “medical supplies” and “baby food,” at a location Reuters verified was inside the facility. 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 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.

Hamas called the claim that weapons were found “a continuation of the lies and cheap propaganda through which (Israel) is trying to give justification for its crime aimed at destroying the health sector in Gaza.”

The Israelis had told the hospital administration in advance that they planned to enter, he said. By mid morning, he and other staff had yet to receive instructions from the troops, although the soldiers were “metres away” from them.

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 instead of outside shooting in, he said.

He was worried about the fate of his patients but unconcerned 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.

Since then, Israel has put Gaza’s entire population of 2.3 million under siege, pounding the crowded strip with air strikes. Gaza health officials, considered reliable by the United Nations, say more than 11,000 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.

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