IDF rejects ‘baseless’ claim it dug mass graves at Gaza hospital; analysts also doubt charge

Evidence suggests Palestinian assertion of discovery of hundreds of bodies buried by IDF is false — and that the bodies were previously buried there by the Palestinians themselves

Palestinian health workers dig for bodies buried at Nasser Hospital compound in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 21, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinian health workers dig for bodies buried at Nasser Hospital compound in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 21, 2024. (AFP)

Hamas officials in Gaza claimed on Saturday to discover a mass grave with more than 200 bodies at a hospital in Khan Younis that was recently the target of a military raid.

The officials claimed the dead were buried in a mass grave by Israeli forces, but evidence suggested this claim was false, with the bodies having previously been buried at that same location by Palestinians amid the fighting between Israeli forces and terror operatives in the area.

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday rejected Hamas’s allegation as “baseless.”

It said forces searching for Israeli hostages had examined bodies previously buried by Palestinians near Nasser Hospital and had returned the bodies to where they were buried after they were examined.

It has been documented that Palestinians buried their dead at the hospital grounds both before and while Israeli troops operated in the area.

The location of that burial site was geo-located by experts to the same location where Hamas officials claimed to have discovered the new mass grave.

Generally, the IDF does not tend to the bodies of slain Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The United Nations rights office claimed that some of the bodies were “found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes.”

The IDF, in its response, said that during its operation in the area of Nasser Hospital in recent months, troops examined corpses that had been buried by Palestinians on the medical center’s grounds, “as part of an effort to locate hostages.”

The military said it operated in a “targeted manner,” only where it had intelligence that Israeli hostages may have been buried.

IDF troops operate at Nasser Hospital, in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, in a handout image published by the IDF on February 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The examinations were carried out in an orderly manner while maintaining the dignity of the deceased and in a respectful manner,” the IDF said, adding that the bodies were “returned to their place in an orderly and proper manner.”

No bodies of hostages were located.

In late February, the IDF carried out a raid against Hamas in the area of Nasser Hospital, with the IDF saying that it captured some 200 terror operatives who were holed up at the medical center.

The military has operated in hospitals in several instances during the war, offering evidence of their repeated use by Gaza terror groups to stage operations, as well as to hold hostages.

Amid the operation at Nasser, the army said it captured some 200 terror operatives and killed dozens.

“The operation was carried out in a targeted manner and without harming the hospital, the patients and the medical staff,” the IDF said Saturday.

Though hospitals are protected sites in war under international law, they lose their protected status if used for military purposes.

Mahmud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas-run Civil Defense, told AFP Saturday that “civil defense crews are still recovering bodies from inside Nasser Medical Complex, and since Saturday bodies of nearly 200 martyrs have been retrieved.”

Bassal said several of the recovered bodies had decomposed.

Ismail al-Thawabta, head of the Hamas government media office in Gaza, gave a higher figure of 283 bodies found at the hospital.

“We discovered mass graves inside Nasser Medical Complex” of people killed by the Israeli army, Thawabta claimed.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said on Tuesday he was “horrified” by the destruction of the Nasser and Shifa medical facilities in Gaza and reports of mass graves, according to a spokesperson.

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the rights organization was raising the alarm because multiple bodies had been discovered.

File: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk delivers a speech at the opening of the 54th UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, on September 11, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

“Some of them had their hands tied, which of course indicates serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and these need to be subjected to further investigations,” Shamdasani said.

Shamdasani said the UN human rights office had received reports that some of the victims in Nur Shams had been killed in apparent extrajudicial executions. The Hamas media office has accused Israel of executions, but has not shared visual or other evidence. Israel denies carrying out executions.

She added that the UN human rights office was working on corroborating Palestinian officials’ reports, including one that 30 bodies were found at Shifa. According to those reports, some of the bodies were buried beneath piles of waste and included women and older people.

Turk, who was represented by Shamdasani at a UN press briefing, also decried Israeli strikes on Gaza in recent days, which he said had killed mostly women and children, apparently based on Hamas reports.

He also repeated a warning against a full-scale incursion on Rafah, where some 1.2 million civilians are crowded together, saying this could lead to “further atrocity crimes.”

Israel has said it must conduct an offensive in Gaza in order to finish off Hamas’s battalions in Gaza, and has outlined plans to evacuate civilians from the city prior to any operation.

Most Popular
read more: