Israel Finds Evidence of Hamas Activity at Gaza Hospital

From a Wall Street Journal story by Dov Lieber and Chao Deng headlined “Israel Says It Found Evidence of Hamas Activity at Gaza Hospital”:

Israel released footage from Gaza’s largest hospital on Wednesday that it said proved the site was being used by Hamas militants, after searching buildings in an operation that carries high stakes for both sides of the war.

The footage showed the MRI wing of the sprawling Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where Israel said it found AK-47s, grenades, military uniforms and a battle vest with the insignia of Hamas’s military wing. In a video, an Israeli military spokesman pointed to a laptop, a hand-held tactical radio and a set of discs as evidence of a Hamas command center in the hospital, although the laptop screen was blurred and he didn’t specify what was found on it.

The Israeli military didn’t show evidence Wednesday of underground complexes or prove its allegations of a Hamas tunnel network connecting to the hospital, but said it was still in the process of combing through the medical complex.

The Israeli offensive has faced international criticism for the killing of civilians and destruction of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Israel contends the hospital compound sits atop underground complexes and a command center used by militants, a claim endorsed by the U.S.

Near the U.S. Capitol Wednesday night, about 150 protesters, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, faced off with police at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Arrests were made, the Capitol Police said on social media.

Hamas denies using the hospital for any militant activities, which would be considered a war crime. Hamas said it invited international organizations to inspect Gaza hospitals.

The entry by Israeli forces into the hospital grounds brings into sharp focus the complexities of the conflict in Gaza, a densely populated Palestinian urban enclave, where further combat with an entrenched guerrilla force risks more civilian casualties.

It is also the latest episode in the dueling narratives playing out around the globe, with television screens in the Arab world filled with looping images of newborn babies in Al-Shifa, while in Israel and parts of the West, the focus was on the victims of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and the militant group’s alleged activities at the hospital.

Finding a command center at the Al-Shifa complex would help justify Israel’s controversial decision to send troops into a hospital, but if its intelligence turns out to be faulty, it would heighten international scrutiny of the military campaign.

The assessment this week that Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, and other Palestinian militants were operating within Al-Shifa was based in part on intercepted communications of fighters inside the compound, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israeli troops also found Hamas military uniforms thrown on the floor, which he said indicated they expected to flee in civilian disguise.

“These findings unequivocally prove that the hospital was used for terror, in complete violation of international law,” said Hagari.

Early Wednesday, the Israeli military said troops carried out a targeted operation in an area of the hospital. There were no reported clashes between Israeli soldiers and militants inside the hospital. A senior Israeli military official said soldiers killed four Hamas fighters who attacked them outside the hospital as they moved to enter the complex later in the morning.

A video from the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza that was distributed by Reuters showed damage and debris in Al-Shifa’s intensive-care area. Medical staff rolled bed-bound patients to a corridor for cover, and one person was shown manually pumping oxygen to a reclined child.

Verified video footage from near the hospital showed scores of damaged buildings, roads filled with debris and two bodies lying facedown.

Thousands of people—including patients, doctors and displaced families—have been sheltering on Al-Shifa’s premises for days amid intensifying gunfire and explosions, and had been bracing for Israeli troops to enter, according to doctors.

“It’s a totally scary environment. We know for sure they are here in the hospital but we don’t know their plan,” said Ahmed Mokhallalati, a surgeon who said he had stayed up the whole night with others inside Al-Shifa’s main building.

Hamas condemned Israel’s move into the hospital. “We hold the occupation, the international community, and the United States of America fully responsible for the safety of thousands of medical personnel, the wounded, and displaced individuals inside,” Hamas said Wednesday.

The Israeli military said that it had delivered incubators, baby food and medical supplies to the hospital, and that its medical teams and Arabic-speaking soldiers were there to help distribute the items. It released photos and videos of soldiers unloading the supplies from military vehicles outside Al-Shifa.

A senior Israeli military official said aid was left at the front gate of the hospital and the staff was informed that they could take it. The official added that the incubators were for use in ambulances that could take the newborns either to safer hospitals in southern Gaza or potentially to Egypt or Israel for medical care. He said it was up to the doctors at the hospital to decide what to do.

There is rising international concern over the plight of Gaza’s hospitals. The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it had lost contact with health workers at Al-Shifa, calling the Israeli incursion “totally unacceptable.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that while it is “understandable” that Israel would want to degrade Hamas’s capabilities, it also means there is an added burden, “because it is a hospital, because there are real patients and real doctors and real nurses that have nothing to do with this fight that need to be protected as much as possible.”

Kirby was asked whether the U.S. signed off on Israel’s operation at Al-Shifa. He said the U.S. didn’t sign off and wouldn’t expect to because the administration doesn’t sign off on Israeli operations.

Israeli officials said they suspected that some hostages abducted from Israel were being kept at the hospital. Israel estimates around 240 hostages remain in Gaza after being kidnapped when Hamas attacked Israeli communities, a music festival and army bases on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, most of them civilians. Among the hostages are women, children and elderly people. They include nationals of more than two dozen countries.

President Biden, at a news conference in Woodside, Calif., following his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, told reporters Wednesday that he had been “deeply involved” in the negotiations to free American hostages being held in Gaza and said he had received “great cooperation” from Qatar in the talks with Hamas. “I’m mildly hopeful,” Biden said.

Biden declined to predict how long the conflict might last. “But I can tell you, I don’t think it ultimately ends until there is a two-state solution,” he said. He added that he had told the Israelis that it would “be a big mistake” to occupy Gaza.

Israeli military officials have said in recent days that they would soon increase their operations in southern Gaza to hunt down Hamas’s leaders and search for hostages.

Sam Zarifi, the director of Physicians for Human Rights, a global rights organization, said that international law does allow for military action against hospitals if they are used by combatants, but only if there is a significant military need to do so.

“To justify an attack on a functioning hospital, you would have to show an amazingly high level of military justification, some advantage you could not get otherwise,” he said.

Zarifi also said that to justify forcefully evacuating a hospital, one would need to show those being evacuated would be safer while leaving and where they are going. He said both warring parties have a responsibility to ensure those being evacuated could be moved safely.

“The decisions should be dictated by the doctors considering the needs of the patients,” he said.

In past decades, the Russian and Syrian militaries and U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have struck hospitals or healthcare facilities they said were occupied by militants at the time, he said.

In 2016, the U.S. carried out an airstrike on part of the Salem hospital in Mosul, Iraq, which was being used by Islamic State to fire on Iraqi forces. The U.S. military said at the time that all feasible precautions were taken to reduce the risk of harm to noncombatants.

Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say that more than 11,000 people, mostly children and women, have been killed in there since the war began. The figures don’t distinguish between civilians and militants.

Ken Thomas, Saeed Shah, Saleh al-Batati and Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.

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