Fierce fighting continued in and around Gaza City between Israel Defense Forces troops and armed gunmen on Saturday, as the military closed in on Shifa Hospital, where Israel believes Hamas’s main headquarters to be located.
Live footage of the area appeared to show heavy fighting in the vicinity of the hospital, with the constant sounds of gunfire and explosions and heavy smoke rising from the area.
Israel has presented evidence in recent weeks that Hamas’s main command center is located underneath Shifa and accused the terror group of using the hospital and its occupants — with 1,500 beds and some 4,000 staff — as human shields for the elaborate bunkers and tunnels beneath it.
Thousands of civilians had been sheltering in the Shifa compound in recent weeks, but many fled Friday as Israeli troops closed in and the IDF expanded access to safe evacuation routes to the south, where there are fewer airstrikes.
Abdallah Nasser, who lives near Shifa, told The Associated Press by phone that the Israeli military was advancing deep into the city from its southern and northern flanks.
“They are facing stiff resistance, but they are advancing,” he said.
Mohammed al-Masri, one of many still sheltering at the hospital, said that from a higher floor, he could see Israeli troops approaching from the west.
“They are here,” he said. “They are visible.”
Meanwhile, the director of the hospital said the medical center had completely lost power as the last generator ran out of fuel.
Israel says Hamas has vast reserves of fuel that it is hoarding to power its complex of tunnels, leaving Gazan civilians in desperate conditions.
An extensive labyrinth of tunnels built by Hamas stretches under Gaza, hiding fighters and their rocket arsenal, as well as many of the hostages taken in the devastating October 7 assault.
“There is no electricity. Medical devices stopped. Patients, especially those in intensive care, started to die,” Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa, told the AP.
Abu Selmia claimed Israeli troops were “shooting at anyone outside or inside the hospital,” and prevented movement between the buildings in the apparently Hamas-controlled compound.
Col. Moshe Tetro, head of COGAT’s Coordination and Liaison Administration to Gaza, said later Saturday that Israeli troops were engaging Hamas fighters near Shifa but stressed “there is no shooting at the hospital and no siege.”
Asked about reports of troops firing into the Shifa courtyard, Lt. Col. (Res.) Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said that troops were “in the midst of ongoing intense fighting against Hamas in the vicinity of the area in question.”
He said the military takes all feasible measures to prevent harm to Palestinian civilians.
Amid the street battles on Saturday, the IDF said it was expanding humanitarian pauses in the northern Gaza Strip to enable Palestinians to evacuate south.
The IDF’s Arabic-language Spokesman, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, said on X that the Salah a-Din road would be open for southbound movement for a total of seven hours, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Previous days saw the humanitarian corridor open for four to six hours, allowing tens of thousands to depart southward during the declared safe hours.
Adraee also said the IDF would be allowing Palestinians to evacuate to southern Gaza via the Strip’s coastal road — a second corridor that was agreed this week between Israel and the White House.
Additionally, Adraee said the IDF made “tactical pauses in military activities” in the Jabaliya neighborhood, a Hamas stronghold, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so that residents could reach the humanitarian corridors to evacuate south.
Almost 1.6 million people have been internally displaced since October 7, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said — about two-thirds of Gaza’s population.
But the UN estimates tens of thousands of civilians remain in the fiercest battle zones in the north.
Complicating Israel’s military push is the fate of the some 240 hostages abducted on October 7, including at least 30 babies and children.
Four hostages have been freed so far by Hamas and another was rescued by the Israeli military. The desperate relatives of those held in Gaza are pressuring Israeli authorities and global leaders to secure the release of their loved ones. None of the hostages have been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
On Saturday, the IDF said it killed a Hamas commander who “held hostage approximately 1,000 Gazan residents at Rantisi Hospital,” preventing them from evacuating from the northern part of the Strip.
In a statement, the IDF said that following intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence Directorate, troops of the Givati Brigade directed a fighter jet to strike Ahmed Siam, the commander of Hamas’s Nasser-Radwan company.
The IDF said Siam was killed while hiding at the al-Buraq school in Gaza City, along with other Hamas operatives under his command.
Palestinian reports said the Friday blast killed 50 people, including Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s granddaughter. The toll could not be independently verified. Schools in Gaza are currently inactive and it was not clear who was in the compound.
“Ahmed Siam demonstrates once again that Hamas uses the civilians of the Gaza Strip as human shields for terror purposes,” the IDF statement read.
צה"ל ושב"כ חיסלו את המחבל שהחזיק כ-אלף מתושבי רצועת עזה כבני ערובה בבית החולים 'רנתיסי' במהלך הלחימה
כוחות מצוות הקרב החטיבתי גבעתי חיסלו באמצעות הכוונת מטוס קרב ובהכוונה מודיעינית של אמ"ן ושב"כ את המחבל אחמד ציאם, מפקד הפלוגה המרחבית נאצר-רצ'ואן בארגון הטרור חמאס >> pic.twitter.com/MedpTJlq7s
— דובר צה״ל דניאל הגרי – Daniel Hagari (@IDFSpokesperson) November 11, 2023
The military also said that in overnight operations, troops found and later destroyed a tunnel entrance near a school.
Meanwhile, the 215th Brigade identified a group of Hamas operatives approaching troops of the Givati Brigade, and directed an aircraft to strike them, the IDF said.
The IDF also said the Navy also carried out strikes overnight, targeting buildings used by Hamas operatives in northern Gaza. Some of those strikes were directed by ground forces.
Weapon depots, including those belonging to Hamas’s naval forces, were also hit by the Navy, the IDF added.
Additionally, troops from Golani Infantry Brigade have led “significant” battles against the Hamas terror group’s Sabra-Tel al-Hawa battalion in the Gaza Strip in recent days, the military said.
It said the Golani Brigade and the 188th Armored Brigade’s 53rd Battalion carried out raids in the southern part of Gaza City’s Sheikh Ijlin neighborhood, during which there were “significant battles with Hamas terrorists.”
The troops killed numerous Hamas operatives and destroyed infrastructure belonging to the Sabra-Tel al-Hawa battalion, including tunnel shafts, rocket launchers, weapons depots and observation posts, the IDF said.
The army is expecting to be fighting in Gaza for a year, Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Friday. The unsourced report said military commanders are being told there is no pressure to hurry and that the IDF is preparing for a year of fighting “to get to the fourth stage of this war: The entry of a new government in Gaza that is not Hamas and is not backed by the Iranians.”
Though rocket fire from Gaza has lessened over the course of the war, there was fire on Saturday toward Beersheba and the surrounding Bedouin communities, as well as towns in the Gaza border area.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said that over 11,000 people had been killed since the war began on October 7 with deadly Hamas attacks on southern Israel. The figures could not be independently verified and are believed to include civilians killed accidentally by Palestinian gunmen in the Strip as well as terror operatives killed by the IDF.
The head of the World Health Organization warned Friday that the health system in Gaza was “on its knees,” noting that half of the territory’s 36 hospitals are no longer functioning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday the IDF will remain in control of the Gaza Strip after the war ends, and will not rely on international forces to oversee security along the border.
Netanyahu made the comments in a meeting with the mayors of Gaza border towns at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu and his government have been vague on what they envision for Gaza after the war. Only hours earlier the premier told Fox News that Israel does not want to re-occupy or govern the Strip.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel will have “overall security responsibility” over the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” after the war against Hamas ends.
The death toll of soldiers killed fighting inside the Gaza Strip rose to 37 on Friday, after the IDF announced that a soldier who was critically wounded during fighting in the Strip on November 8 had succumbed to his injuries.
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.