Hanegbi says Gazans should avoid hospitals in north, urges Egypt to accept injured

National security adviser says medical ships are on the way, adds IDF will operate in southern and central Gaza in the future, warns that Hamas must ‘cease existing’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks during a statement to the media at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv on October 31, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks during a statement to the media at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv on October 31, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi on Tuesday urged Palestinians to avoid hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip, alleging that they serve as “terror headquarters.”

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Hanegbi said that Israel is calling for medical care for every Gazan who needs it, “but not in hospitals that today are effectively terror headquarters for Hamas and Islamic Jihad command and control.”

Instead, said Hanegbi, Gazan civilians should be treated in “alternative hospitals in Egypt, in the protected area [in Gaza], [and] on hospital ships of various countries who answered the prime minister’s initiative and are meant to reach Gaza’s shores.”

The Israel Defense Forces has said that Hamas’s main base of operations is under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that Hamas has several underground complexes under Shifa — the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip — that are used by the terror group’s leaders to direct attacks against Israel.

Hanegbi stressed that Israel follows the rules of war, and its attempts to protect civilians also protect its legitimacy to carry out its campaign against Hamas.

Hamas terror group members guard the entrance of the Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, August 26, 2020. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

During the Palestinian terror group’s October 7 massacre, some 2,500 terrorists burst through the border under cover of a deluge of rockets, and rampaged through more than 20 communities near the Gaza Strip. They killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, massacring them in their homes and at an outdoor music festival. They also abducted at least 245 people to the Strip as hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip has claimed that over 8,500 people have died as a result of Israeli airstrikes since October 7. However, the figures issued by the group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza and Israel, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

Israel has repeatedly asked that Gaza’s civilians head to the southern Gaza Strip.

Though IDF operations are focused on northern Gaza, especially Gaza City, they will eventually move operations to the rest of the coastal strip, Hanegbi pledged.

Israeli armored personnel carrier moves near the border with the Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“The south’s turn will come, the center’s turn will come, everything in its time. This is a long campaign.”

Hanegbi also stressed that Israel would continue working to prevent fuel from entering the Gaza Strip, calling it “oxygen in the veins of murderers.”

“If there is no electricity and no fuel, they will come out of the tunnels to the surface, and it will make it easier for us to kill them,” he said.

The UN has warned that hospitals and other vital services in the Palestinian enclave risk shutting down without fuel deliveries. Israel has said Hamas is stockpiling large amounts of fuel, withholding it from Gaza’s civilians.

Trucks carrying fuel drive in the Gaza Strip on October 22, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Answering a question from the press, Hanegbi called Egypt a friendly state, and explained that Cairo places great importance on preventing a mass of Palestinians from entering the country. At the same time, he emphasized that it was important that Egypt allows injured and sick Gazans to receive medical care in its hospitals, calling it “a mutual interest.”

In prepared statements at the start of the press conference, Hanegbi said that Hamas has “to cease existing,” and that is the IDF’s mission in the war.

“Monstrous terrorist organizations will never again be allowed to rule the Gaza Strip,” he said.

At the same time, he underscored that a primary aim of the war is also returning the hostages. “This is our sacred responsibility as a nation, to our soldiers and our civilians.”

He insisted, as other Israeli leaders have, that the ground operation will help free the hostages.

Hanegbi said that there is not about to be a major hostage release achieved through Qatari mediation.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani waits for the arrival of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Lusail, Qatar, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, File)

Last week, in a rare statement, Hanegbi praised Doha on X for its “crucial” diplomatic efforts on a hostage deal.

A Hamas spokesman announced on Tuesday evening that it would be releasing several hostages with foreign passports.

As intensive fighting took place between IDF ground forces and Hamas in Gaza, Hanegbi said: “There is no combat without a painful price. We are a fighting nation, despite the pain. We are determined to win, despite the pain.”

Shortly afterward, the IDF announced that two soldiers were killed and two seriously injured in the Gaza fighting.

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