As fighting between Israel and Hamas continued to rage Saturday in northern Gaza, including near the Strip’s largest hospital, the Israel Defense Forces denied Palestinian claims that the hospital was under siege or that those inside were trapped, while asserting troops were continuing to make achievements against Hamas on the ground.
The IDF further said that it was asked by staff at Shifa Hospital to help enable the transfer of babies in the pediatric department to a safer hospital, and would do so on Sunday.
The military also announced that five more soldiers had been killed in the fighting, bringing the toll of servicemembers slain in Israel’s ground operation in the enclave to 42.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a press briefing Saturday evening that ground forces, with air and naval support, were “deepening” operations in Gaza City’s al-Shati neighborhood.
He said Hamas was losing control of northern Gaza, as civilians evacuate the area “against the instructions” of the terror group, and noted that some 200,000 had left the Strip’s north in the past three days alone.
He dismissed “false reports” that the IDF had hit Shifa Hospital and was surrounding and striking Gaza hospitals, saying that the IDF does not strike hospitals. Rather, he said, “We are fighting terrorists who are choosing to fight from close to Shifa Hospital.”
“There has been a lot of misinformation from Gaza today. So I want to clarify the facts. There is no siege, I repeat no siege, on Shifa Hospital. The east side of the hospital is open for the safe passage of Gazans who wish to leave the hospital,” Hagari said, adding that the army would continue to allow patients and staff at Gaza’s hospitals, and all noncombatants in northern Gaza, to evacuate to the south.
“We’re speaking directly and regularly with the hospital staff,” he said. “The staff of Shifa Hospital has requested that tomorrow we will help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital. We will provide the assistance needed.”
Israel has said the medical facility is used by Hamas as a central base of operations, with some aboveground facilities and a network of tunnels and command posts underneath it.
"There is no shooting at the hospital and there is no siege.
The East Side of the hospital remains open."
— COGAT (@cogatonline) November 11, 2023
Earlier in the day, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said two premature babies had died at Shifa due to power cuts, citing doctors there.
The director at Shifa said the hospital had completely lost power as the last generator ran out of fuel.
“There is no electricity. Medical devices stopped. Patients, especially those in intensive care, started to die,” Mohammed Abu Selmia, the director of Shifa, told AP, speaking by phone over the sound of gunfire and explosions.
“There is something that the world must not forget, and we will not let the world forget it,” Hagari said at his press conference on Saturday evening. “Hamas has been holding hostages, 239 men, women, and children, elderly and babies — don’t forget babies — for 36 days. This is a crime against humanity.”
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.
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.
Five more soldiers fall
The military announced five soldier deaths Saturday, all of which occurred the previous day. Those slain were all reservists: Maj. (res.) Moshe Yedidyah Leiter, 39; Sgt. Maj. (res.) Yossi Hershkovitz, 44; Master Sgt. (res.) Matan Meir, 38; Master Sgt. (res.) Sergey Shmerkin, 32; Master Sgt. (res.) Netanel (Nati) Harush, 34.
The first four, of the 551st Brigade’s 697th Battalion, were killed by a blast from a booby-trapped tunnel shaft next to a mosque in the Beit Hanoun area. The troops were not inside the tunnel when it blew.
Hershkovitz was the principal of the Pelech Boys School in Jerusalem. Jerusalem educators hailed him in a statement as a figure of multiple qualities and activities and an educational leader, and noted that he had been “fighting in the south from the first day.”
The IDF said troops of the 551st were still fighting in the Beit Hanoun area, killing numerous Hamas operatives while locating weaponry within civilian sites.
It said soldiers found and destroyed ammunition and explosive devices in a kindergarten, as well as several tunnels inside residential buildings, and military compounds. Troops also recovered maps and intelligence materials from Hamas military sites.
IDF troops of its 551st Reserve Brigade are still fighting in the Beit Hanoun area of northern Gaza, while locating weaponry within civilian sites. pic.twitter.com/qxqdj5t53d
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) November 11, 2023
The IDF said ground forces operating in Gaza had directed the Air Force to carry out some 5,000 strikes throughout the war to “thwart threats in real time.”
It said some 3,300 strikes were carried out by fighter jets, 860 by combat helicopters and more than 570 by unmanned aerial vehicles. Many of the airstrikes have taken place within a few hundred meters of ground forces, and some even closer than that.
Rockets were fired from Gaza several times throughout the day, targeting Israel communities near the Strip and tin he Beersheba area, but causing no damage or casualties. Some of the rockets fired toward Beersheba were apparently intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
The military said Iron Dome also intercepted a “suspicious target” that entered Israeli airspace from the Strip. The target, apparently a drone, was shot down over Sderot.
At a press conference Saturday evening, the trio leading the Israeli war effort — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz — rejected mounting international criticism over the civilian costs of the grinding military campaign.
Israel will “stand firm against the world if necessary,” Netanyahu said.
Addressing world leaders, he said: “Don’t cave to the pressure. Our war is your war.” Israel has to win for its own sake and for the world, he argued.
In any case, “no international pressure, no false allegations about IDF soldiers and our state” will impact Israel’s insistence on protecting itself, he said.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says that over 11,000 people had been killed since the war began on October 7 with a shock Hamas assault on southern Israel. The figures could not be independently verified and are believed to include civilians killed misfired Palestinian rockets as well as terror operatives killed by the IDF.
Gallant asked how some leaders “can be so bold as to preach morals to us at the height of combat.”
“I want to say to those European leaders who criticize us: the State of Israel and the people of Israel in 2023 are not in the year 1943. We have the means and the obligation to defend ourselves, by ourselves, and that’s what we’ll do. We will not rest until we’ve carried out our mission, and carried it out so that Hamas is defeated.”
Netanyahu also said the military will remain in Gaza “as long as necessary” to prevent the enclave from being used to launch terror attacks against Israel. “Hamas will be demilitarized; there will be no further threat from the Gaza Strip on Israel, and to ensure that, for all long as necessary, IDF will control Gaza security to prevent terror from there.”
He also indicated Israel would oppose the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza following the war — reportedly a goal sought by Washington — as the territory cannot be ruled by “a civil authority that educates its children to hate Israel, to kill Israelis, to eliminate the State of Israel… an authority that pays the families of murderers [amounts] based on the number they murdered… an authority whose leader still has not condemned the terrible [October 7] massacre 30 days later.”
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 time pressure 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.”
Agencies contributed to this report.