ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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IDF breaches blast door in Hamas tunnel under Gaza’s Shifa Hospital

Health Ministry accuses WHO of ignoring terror activities at medical centers in the Strip; military says hostage deal won’t impact mission of toppling Hamas

These images released by the IDF on November 21, 2023, show the inside of a Hamas tunnel found under Gaza's Shifa Hospital. (Israel Defense Forces)
These images released by the IDF on November 21, 2023, show the inside of a Hamas tunnel found under Gaza's Shifa Hospital. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military on Tuesday said it breached a blast door at the end of a Hamas tunnel discovered by forces last week underneath Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, where Israel alleges the terror group operates a key command center.

The Israel Defense Forces published two images, one showing the open door and the other further inside the tunnel.

Earlier this week, the IDF released footage showing the inside of the tunnel shaft and part of the tunnel. After around 55 meters, the tunnel ended with a blast door, likely protecting Hamas assets below ground.

The IDF has said for weeks that a major network of tunnels and bunkers exists under Shifa.

The tunnel shaft had been located on the hospital grounds under a canopy, where IDF troops had also found a Hamas pickup truck with weapons in it, similar to those used by the terror group in the October 7 attacks.

Along with Shifa, Israel accuses Hamas of using other hospitals in the Strip for terror purposes.

Hamas terrorists bring a hostage into Shifa Hospital as seen on surveillance footage from October 7, 2023. (IDF)

In a letter sent Tuesday to the World Health Organization, the heads of the Health Ministry protested Hamas operations at Shifa, noting the closed-circuit video clips from showing terror activity — including the holding of hostages — in the above-ground areas of the hospital. The letter reminded the WHO that such activity is unethical and contravenes all rules of war.

“On November 2, Dr. Michael Ryan, director of WHO health emergencies program, said he knew what was going on ‘above ground’ at Shifa and was aware that the use of medical facilities for military purposes is forbidden according to international law. At the same time, he claimed he doubted that any terror activities were happening at Shifa,” wrote Health Minister Uriel Busso and Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov.

Based on evidence from the closed-circuit video, the Health Ministry accused Ryan of providing an incorrect and misleading description of the situation at Shifa to the international community.

“It is clear now that WHO has ignored the use of medical facilities as human shields and of Hamas’s refusal to allow civilians to evacuate from them… WHO’s failure to address these issues amounts to its contribution to the continuation of a conflict that is causing much suffering to so many,” the letter said.

A Hamas pickup truck is seen at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, as seen on surveillance footage from October 7, 2023. (IDF)

The Health Ministry also referred in the letter to terrorists Israel says are hiding underneath Shifa, other hospitals, and schools in Gaza contrary to international law.

“WHO must demand an immediate halt to the use of human shields and health facilities for terror purposes. It must also demand the evacuation of all civilian populations to safe zones and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” the ministry’s letter said.

IDF says hostage deal won’t impact mission to topple Hamas

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that military pressure on Hamas was creating “better conditions” for the release of hostages held by the terror group in the Gaza Strip, and that such pressure will continue.

The military chief’s comments came ahead of a cabinet vote in which ministers were expected to approve an agreement that will see Hamas release some 50 hostages — children, mothers, and women — in exchange for a ceasefire of 4-5 days and the release of 150-300 Palestinian prisoners.

During a visit to the Gaza Strip Tuesday, Halevi told troops they were doing a “great job, it really is very impressive.” But he added that “the road is still long.”

“We are determined to follow this road and really bring maximal achievements. Also to dismantle Hamas — militarily and governmentally — also to bring security around the region, to the communities in the [area surrounding Gaza], and also to return the hostages,” Halevi said.

“All these things work together… the maneuver also creates better conditions for the return of the hostages. It deals blows to Hamas, it creates pressure, and we will continue this pressure,” he added.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks with troops in the Gaza Strip, November 21, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking during a daily press briefing, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari implied the hostage deal taking shape, which will include a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, will not impact the military’s main goal of eliminating the Hamas terror group.

“The goal of returning the hostages is significant. Even if it results in the reduction of some of the other things, we will know how to restore our operational achievements,” Hagari said in response to a question.

Addressing reports of the deal, Hagari said the military will first update the families of the hostages, and then the public.

“I recommend only listening to reports from official sources. We will update the truth to the public when we have the facts,” he said.

Following the expected resumption of fighting, the IDF has no plans to allow Palestinians to move back to northern Gaza when the military expands its ground offensive into the southern part of the Strip.

The Times of Israel has learned that the IDF instead plans to direct the civilian population to areas away from the expected ground offensive in southern Gaza, in order to reduce civilian casualties.

The population may move around in southern Gaza, but not northward, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

So far, the IDF has declared the small al-Mawasi area on the southern coast of Gaza as a “safe zone” amid the ground offensive in the north and airstrikes across the Strip.

The IDF believes the humanitarian situation in Gaza is reasonable given the circumstances, and wishes to avoid a major crisis that would harm Israel’s legitimacy to continue its operations in the Strip.

Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip along Salah al-Din Street in Bureij, designated as a humanitarian corridor by the IDF to escape Gaza’s north, November 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The fighting in Gaza has been raging since 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed through the border with Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostages. Israel declared war on Hamas in response, launching an aerial campaign and a subsequent ground offensive that is aimed at toppling the terror group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, and securing the release of the hostages.

Sixty-eight Israeli soldiers have been killed in the ground operation that began October 27.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that over 13,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on October 7, including at least 5,500 children and 3,500 women. The figures provided by the terror group cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives, and also do not distinguish between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches.

As of Tuesday, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has estimated that some 160,000 people remain in shelters in northern Gaza, despite the United Nations agency being unable to provide care for them and Israel’s repeated calls for them to evacuate to a safe zone in the south via humanitarian corridors operated by the IDF.

Some 1.7 million Palestinians, about three-fourths of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes, many packing into UN-run schools and other facilities across the enclave’s south.

As shelters have overflowed, people have been forced to sleep on the streets outside, with little protection against winter rains that have hit the region in recent days.

The UN has warned that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are running critically short of food and water and said the amount of fuel being provided is only half of the daily minimum requirement. Israel says Hamas has plundered Gaza’s resources, including fuel, and has expressed concern this will continue and let the terror group continue powering its rockets and tunnel network.

Israel has resisted calls for a ceasefire unless a significant number of some 240 hostages abducted on October 7, including all women and children, are released in exchange. There has also been concern that an extended pause in the fighting would allow Hamas and other terror groups to regroup and prepare for the next stage of fighting, impeding the IDF’s ability to operate.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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