The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday that its troops found military equipment including weapons in their raid on Gaza’s biggest hospital.
In an operation that began before dawn and continued for much of Wednesday, Israeli forces entered part of Shifa Hospital, with a journalist at the site telling AFP that the IDF had carried out room-by-room searches, after days of fighting on the outskirts of the facility with Hamas gunmen.
The IDF had encircled Shifa for days, and has said Hamas maintained a major operations command center beneath the facility, using the patients, staff, and civilians sheltering there to provide cover for its terrorists and gunmen. The US on Tuesday confirmed that Hamas and Islamic Jihad use Shifa and other Gaza hospitals, and tunnels underneath them, “to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”
“In the hospital, we found weapons, intelligence materials, and military technology and equipment,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters.
“We also found an operational headquarters with comms equipment… belonging to Hamas” and “Hamas uniforms,” he said.
The army published images of guns, grenades, and other equipment it said were found at Shifa.
IDF releases evidence of Hamas weapons found inside Shifa Hospital's MRI center, during the raid by the elite Shaldag unit and other forces of the 36th Division inside the medical center today. pic.twitter.com/HrtzHmpELR
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) November 15, 2023
“These findings unequivocally prove that the hospital was used for terror, in complete violation of international law,” Hagari said.
The video released by the military from inside Shifa showed three duffel bags it said it found hidden around an MRI lab, each containing an assault rifle, grenades and Hamas uniforms, as well as a closet that contained a number of assault rifles without ammunition clips. A laptop was also discovered and taken for study.
“These weapons have absolutely no business being inside a hospital,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said in the video, adding that he believed the material was “just the tip of the iceberg.” The military said the search was continuing, but it did not immediately show evidence of tunnels or an extensive military center.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza denied the claims, saying Israeli forces “did not find any equipment or weapons in the hospital.”
The military said it carried out a “precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the hospital,” and that its soldiers were accompanied by medical teams bringing in incubators and other supplies.
The army did not appear to have advanced to parts of the hospital below, where Hamas’s main command center is widely believed to be located.
It said it would continue to operate in Shifa Hospital in order to find intelligence information and Hamas assets, and added that forces were also searching for hostages, though they have not found any of them.
Hours before Israel’s raid, the United States said its own intelligence indicated terrorists have used Shifa and other hospitals — and tunnels beneath them — to support military operations and hold hostages.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters in a Wednesday briefing that Shifa Hospital is “an active legitimate hospital… We want their patients to be as protected as possible.”
However, he clarified that “what Hamas is doing… It is a violation of the law of war to headquarter yourself in a hospital.”
Asked whether the US gave prior approval to the IDF’s Shifa Hospital raid, Kirby said it did not, because Washington does not expect Israel to provide advance notice of its military operations in Gaza.
Dave Harden, a former USAID mission director in the West Bank and Gaza, tweeted Wednesday that it was well known in the Strip that Hamas terrorists used Shifa Hospital as a commander center and would use ambulances for travel.
“When I was in seat, it was broadly suspected/understood as far back as 2014 that Hamas used Shifa Hospital complex as a command center and base for operations,” Harden wrote, noting it was based on assessments from both Palestinian and Israel officials.
He added that Hamas “used ambulances to move its people,” something he learned in conversations with the then-head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Wednesday in Tel Aviv with a US delegation headed by White House Mideast czar Brett McGurk and the State Department’s top diplomat for the Mideast Barbara Leaf, stressing that the IDF operation to “free Shifa Hospital from the control of the Hamas terror group” points to the Israeli determination and ability to completely root out Hamas from every corner of Gaza, the premier’s office said.
The statement added that the group discussed a number of topics, with a focus on the issue of freeing the hostages held captive in Gaza.
The military’s Shifa raid drew condemnation from UN, Jordan, and the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, which called it a violation of international law.
Under international humanitarian law, hospitals can lose their protected status if combatants use them for military purposes. But civilians must be given ample time to flee, and any attack must be proportional to the military objective — putting the onus on Israel to prove it was a big enough military target to justify the siege against it.
The United Nations estimated there were at least 2,300 patients, staff and displaced Palestinians inside Shifa. At one point during the war, tens of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Israeli bombardment were sheltering at the hospital, but most left in recent days, as the fighting drew closer.
Global agencies including the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross raised concerns for the safety of patients and medical staff following the raid.
Neither Hamas nor the IDF reported any clashes inside the hospital. The military said its troops killed five terrorists outside Shifa at the start of the operation.
War erupted when Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught on October 7, in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. In response, Israel embarked on a massive air and ground campaign with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday that 11,500 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 4,710 children and 3,160 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.