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 centre 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,” Israeli army spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a news 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.
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“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.”
Israel launched its campaign to annihilate Hamas, the Islamist militant group which controls Gaza, after fighters crossed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, rampaging through towns, killing civilians and dragging hostages back into Gaza. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken.
Since then, Israel has put Gaza’s entire population of 2.3 million under siege, pounding the crowded strip with airstrikes. Gaza health officials, considered reliable by the United Nations, say more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, around 40 per cent of them children. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that they haven’t received an update in three days from officials in Gaza.
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 litres of diesel fuel to be allowed into Gaza for UN 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 between Israel and Hamas militants for a “sufficient number of days” to allow humanitarian aid access. It also called 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, however, has been discussed in negotiations mediated by Qatar to release some of the hostages held by Hamas.
‘Hospitals are not battlegrounds’: WHO chief
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, told reporters the Israeli military incursion into Al-Shifa was “totally unacceptable.”
“Hospitals are not battlegrounds,” he said in Geneva.
Front Burner28:36The ceasefire debate
“What is happening in Gaza is a very obvious, very clear war crime that Israel is committing against those who have been treated in the hospitals,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Dr. Mohammad Obeid, a surgeon with Doctors Without Borders who is working inside Al-Shifa Hospital, described the harrowing conditions in a phone call with CBC News that frequently cut out because of poor communication lines.
Obeid said bombing had intensified around the hospital complex during the night, and then Israeli tanks arrived at the complex.
“We worry if we look from the window, they [will] shoot us,” said Obeid.
He was told to stay in a room in a surgical wing by a manager, after it was learned Israeli military were in the building.
Doctors have been pleading for an evacuation plan for the hundreds of patients, including dozens of premature babies, for days, Obeid said.
“I’m a doctor … I cannot leave the patient to die,” he said.
Dr. Ahmed El Mohallalati, a surgeon, told Reuters by phone on Wednesday morning that staff had hid as the fighting unfolded outside the hospital overnight.
“One of the big tanks entered within the hospital from the eastern main gate, and they were just parked in the front of the hospital emergency department,” said Mohallalati. As he spoke, the sound of what he described as “continuous shooting from the tanks” could be heard in the background.
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, Mohallalati said.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry released a video Wednesday that it said was shot at least a day earlier, showing the scene inside the hospital before Israeli troops entered it on Wednesday.