Correspondent in Jerusalem
The fog of war fell on Wednesday over al-Shifa hospital, which had become the epicenter of the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Rare testimonies have come in, reporting scenes of panic at the entry of Israeli troops into the confines of this vast complex located in the heart of Gaza City. At the end of the day, according to a journalist collaborating with AFP, Israeli soldiers and tanks withdrew from the establishment.
At 1 a.m. on Tuesday night, the Israeli army announced that “based on intelligence data and for reasons of operational necessity,” its forces were carrying out “a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specific area of al-Shifa Hospital.” Israel has been tightening its grip for several days around the hospital complex which it accused, from the start of the war, of housing a Hamas command center.
The al-Shifa hospital, where tens of thousands of people have taken refuge and where the wounded have continued to arrive for more than a month, is almost no longer able to function. He is without water or electricity, short of medicine and food. A mass grave was dug there at the beginning of the week. At least 179 corpses, which until then had been rotting in the open air, were buried there. A large part of the refugees, the wounded who can move and medical teams have left in recent days, fleeing towards the south of the Gaza Strip via a corridor authorized by the Israeli army. As of Wednesday, al-Shifa was still sheltering 2,000 refugees, 400 medical staff, 650 wounded and 36 premature babies, according to the Hamas health ministry.
Victims of war, hospitals in Gaza City are also at the heart of a media battle between Israel and Hamas. Wednesday provided a new illustration of this. During the morning, Vice Admiral Daniel Hagari, chief spokesperson for the Israeli army, held a briefing with the international press. Repeatedly repeating that “the Israeli army is at war against Hamas, not against the civilian population,” he explained that this operation had made it possible to gather “concrete evidence” that Hamas had used the al-Shifa hospital. for military purposes. “Our forces were confronted by terrorists in the streets surrounding the hospital. Four of them were neutralized,” said the soldier while specifying that this operation “still in progress” did not have the primary objective of hunting down Hamas fighters, but of finding the military infrastructures of the Islamist movement. .
“To my knowledge,” said Daniel Hagari, “there is no fighting inside the hospital. We are working precisely, slowly, to limit the damage to buildings, patients and medical teams. We are doing our best to ensure that these innocent people, used as human shields by Hamas, are spared.” He also explained that Arabic-speaking soldiers and medical teams had been deployed to the hospital and that the tanks had been “filled with medical equipment.” In a video provided by the Israeli army, soldiers are seen carrying boxes of medicine.
Under international pressure due to their operations in hospitals, places protected by the Geneva conventions, the Israeli defense forces are striving to prove that they are forced to do so by Hamas. Released earlier this week, video footage filmed in the basement of al-Rantisi hospital in Gaza City was intended to prove that Hamas used the pediatric hospital to hide weapons and Israeli hostages. Speaking to the press on Wednesday evening, Vice-Admiral Hagari confirmed these allegations, explaining that the IDF had found weapons, grenades and “technological equipment”, notably in the MRI department of the hospital. “Hamas uniforms” were discovered, as well as an “operational command center”. Hamas denied these statements, saying it “does not authorize” the presence of weapons in its establishments.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mohammed Zaqout, director general of Gaza hospitals within the Hamas Ministry of Health, painted a different picture of the Israeli operation. “The Israeli army turned al-Shifa hospital into a detention center, interrogating medical staff and civilians sheltering in the hospital. The army attack started in the northern part of the hospital and affected different sections such as the cardiology and x-ray unit.”
A testimony reported by AFP claims that Israeli soldiers entered the hospital buildings with weapons in hand, taking men over 16 out, searching them and forcing some of them to strip down to their underwear . Doctor Zaqout's statements point in the same direction. The doctor ended his speech by denouncing “an intrusion facilitated by the silence of the international community on the massacres committed by the Israeli army in hospitals in the Gaza Strip.” He particularly criticized international organizations like the Red Cross and the WHO who “did not move a finger”. Last week, a Red Cross convoy was attacked en route to hospitals in Gaza City, but managed to deliver medical supplies to al-Shifa.
Sparked by the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, in which around 1,300 Israelis were killed and nearly 240 taken hostage, Israel's war against Hamas has claimed at least 11,500 civilian casualties, according to the latest tally from the Hamas Ministry of Health on Wednesday. The humanitarian catastrophe and the deplorable situation of hospitals are regularly denounced by the international community. On Wednesday, the UN humanitarian affairs director called for “the carnage in Gaza to stop,” while the WHO director called the Israeli military operation in al-Shifa hospital “totally unacceptable.” Shy clarification, Unrwa, the United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, announced a delivery of fuel, essential to provide electricity to hospitals, desalination plants, bakeries... This is the first time since the start of the war, Israel has authorized such a delivery: the Jewish state fears that it will be hijacked by Hamas.