Israeli forces raided the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Gaza—the enclave’s largest medical facility—early Wednesday, in what they described as a “precise and targeted operation” against Hamas, a day after UN officials raised alarm about the deteriorating conditions at the hospital.
The Israeli Defense Forces called the raid an “operational necessity” and said it is taking place “in a specified area” of the hospital based on intelligence.
The IDF said its raiding forces include medical teams and Arabic speakers and wants to ensure that “no harm is caused to the civilians being used by Hamas as human shields.”
The IDF also claims its raid on the hospital complex comes after a 12-hour warning to stop all military activities from the site was not heeded.
Thousands of civilians, patients, and doctors are believed to be sheltering at the hospital, which has been without power since the weekend, prompting a warning from the United Nations’ Humanitarian Affairs Office (OCHA) that several patients, including at least 36 babies, are facing a “heightened risk of death.”
The IDF said it has facilitated “wide-scale evacuations of the hospital,” however these claims have faced some pushback from health officials and people trapped inside the hospital, with Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry accusing Israel of effectively blockading the complex.
Israel has accused Hamas of operating a command post inside tunnel complexes underneath Al-Shifa and said it was using the hospital’s patients and doctors as human shields. Both Hamas and hospital authorities have denied these allegations. On Tuesday, White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that U.S. officials had intelligence that aligned with Israel’s claims about Hamas using the hospital. Following the Israeli raid, Hamas issued a statement saying it holds Israel and President Joe Biden “fully responsible” for the operation. Hamas added that it viewed Kirby’s statement as a “green light” for Israeli forces to “commit more massacres against civilians.”
While describing Hamas’ actions as a war crime, Kirby said: “To be clear, we do not support striking a hospital from the air. We do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care they deserve. We have been clear on multiple occasions – Hamas’ actions do not lessen Israel’s responsibilities to protect civilians in Gaza.”
On Monday evening, a World Health Organization official described Al-Shifa Hospital as “nearly a cemetery” on Monday and said dead bodies piling up inside the hospital. On Tuesday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry claimed 40 patients died inside Al-Shifa on Tuesday and the hospital’s staff were trying to bury nearly 180 bodies in a mass grave inside the hospital complex. Doctors at the hospital have warned that the lives of dozens of premature babies were at risk as they had to be moved out of their incubators after the hospital lost power. The IDF has offered to send additional incubators to the hospital but it is unclear how they would be used without power.