GAZA CITY — Dozens of Israeli forces, some wearing facemasks and firing guns into the air, early Wednesday raided part of Gaza’s biggest hospital, packed with patients and displaced people, in their battle against Hamas forces.
“All men 16 years and above, raise your hands,” a soldier shouted in Arabic through a loudspeaker, to those sheltering inside Al-Shifa hospital, which has become the centre of fierce urban combat for days.
“Exit the building towards the courtyard and surrender,” the soldier ordered, according to a journalist who took refuge inside the embattled hospital several days ago and who has been in contact with AFP.
The army labelled the raid a “precise and targeted” operation against Hamas, the Palestinian group that launched the October 7 attacks that started the Gaza war and which Israel claims is running a command centre beneath the clinic.
Israeli and Palestinian officials both reported the overnight military operations at Al-Shifa, the focal point of days of deadly fighting and nearby aerial bombardments.
Witnesses have described conditions inside the hospital as horrific, with medical procedures performed without anaesthetic, families with scant food or water living in corridors, and the stench of decomposing corpses filling the air.
As Israeli forces raced through the corridors, hundreds of young men emerged from different wards, including the maternity section, which was hit in a strike a few days ago, the journalist reported.
Soldiers were firing warning shots as they moved from room to room looking for Hamas forces, he said.
Tanks in hospital complex
Several Israeli tanks had rolled into the vast hospital complex, the journalist said, adding that Israeli troops had also entered the main emergency department and other wards.
The Israeli army, in a statement early Wednesday, described it as “a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area” of the facility.
The army in a separate statement said it had delivered incubators, baby food and medical supplies to the hospital during the operation.
“Our medical teams and Arabic speaking soldiers are on the ground to ensure that these supplies reach those in need,” it said.
Gaza’s Hamas government accused the Israeli army of committing a “war crime and crime against humanity” as the troops pushed on with their search operation.
Over the past few days Israel has encircled Al-Shifa in north Gaza, charging that the facilities were being used by Hamas as command centres as well as hideouts for their commanders.
The White House said that US intelligence sources corroborated Israel’s claim that Hamas and another armed group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, had buried an operational “command and control node” under Al-Shifa.
Hamas has denied those charges and stressed the suffering inside the besieged clinic that has been without electricity or fuel for generators amid a weeks-old Israeli siege of the Palestinian territory.
The United Nations said earlier that at least 2,300 people — patients, staff and displaced civilians — were inside and may be unable to escape because of the fierce fighting.
Citing the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, UN humanitarian agency OCHA said 40 patients had died in Al-Shifa on Tuesday.
The hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya said on Tuesday that 179 bodies had been interred in a mass grave inside the complex.