The Israeli military said Monday that it had established a detention facility in southern Israel to bring detainees from the Gaza Strip for questioning and has interrogated some 300 people, including terrorists from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups at the facility so far.
The Israel Defense Forces said the terror operatives and detainees provided interrogators with the locations of Hamas tunnel networks and weapons depots in Gaza, as well as detailing the terror group’s methods of operation, including their widespread use of human shields.
The IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 — which specializes in HUMINT (human intelligence) — has dozens of Arabic-speaking soldiers that are on the ground in the Gaza Strip, alongside the combat units, carrying out field interrogations and providing intelligence to forces, the military said.
Unit 504 has doubled its personnel amid the fighting, and established a new sub-unit specifically for southern Israel.
Overall, the unit has questioned some 500 Palestinians and has made millions of calls to civilians to evacuate northern Gaza since the beginning of the fighting in the Strip.
“Each and every investigation leads to the incrimination of new sites, and the human intelligence that emerges… is an inseparable layer of the complete intelligence picture,” said a senior Unit 504 officer.
The IDF published three videos showing detainees detailing to Unit 504 interrogators Hamas’s use of hospitals for terror purposes. The men described how they hid at the Shifa and Rantisi hospitals, the Red Crescent building, and other medical centers, while Hamas used the sites to fight Israeli soldiers.
While some detainees are terror suspects, others worked for the Hamas-run government, and some appeared to be uninvolved but had knowledge of the terror group’s activities.
Israel says Hamas uses Shifa and other hospitals as protection for its terror activity, and has specifically singled out Shifa as a key underground operations center for the group.
On Sunday, the military shared new footage of the underground network of tunnels and bunkers it says is buried under the hospital, as Israeli forces continue to operate in and around the facility. It also released surveillance camera footage from Shifa showing Hamas terrorists bringing a Nepali and Thai citizen who were abducted from Israel on October 7, when thousands of terrorists burst across the border into Israel from Gaza and killed some 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, and also took some 240 hostages of all ages.
Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel declared war and launched an offensive it said is aimed at destroying the terror group’s infrastructure and targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
The Israeli military has been operating ground forces in northern Gaza for close to a month, focused on terror targets in that part of the enclave, and specifically Shifa Hospital.
Israeli officials have been intent on producing evidence of Hamas’s misuse of Shifa to the world, to back up their assertions that the terror organization uses civilians and civilian infrastructure to shield itself, and thus shore up support for Israel’s ongoing offensive.
In one video provided on Monday by the military of part of an interrogation of a terror suspect apprehended last week, the suspect says he was at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where some 50,000 people were seeking refuge, and the “doctors were furious because Hamas operatives and operatives of other terror groups were inside the hospital.”
The suspect estimated that there were about 100 such operatives at the hospital and that some “dressed as nursing staff and other medical staff “to blend in with the hospital wards,” especially in the intensive care unit.
Another suspect who gave his name as Hamuda Riad Asad Shalamah, a father of three from Gaza City, said he was an internet application engineer at the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry and sought refuge with his family at the Red Crescent building in the city when the war began, as it was considered “safe and secure.”
He said the 10-floor complex hosted about 40,000 people, including Hamas members who “continued to operate” from the building.
“What I saw was how they wrapped the rockets with mattresses and hid them…and also guns,” he said in the interrogation, according to a English translation provided by the IDF.
If “one of their rockets would explode, it could kill 50 of us, or more.”
“This happened on a daily basis. No one can tell them no. Who could do so? If you dare confront a Hamas member, he may kill you,” he added.
Shalamah said the “sheer number of people in the place served as protection for them. We became their human shields. It’s obvious that the IDF would not strike a place with 40,000 people in it.”
“It was scary, the whole thing was terrible. We went there to find shelter, and then they came and endangered me and my family at this place,” he went on.
In a third clip of an interrogation provided by the military, the suspect who gives his name as Abdelrahman Alaa Ibrahim Samur, said he can answer questions about what he saw at the “Swedish Hospital” in Gaza, which belongs to UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and at Rantisi Hospital in the city.
Samur said he was at Rantisi Hospital for five days and saw “Hamas operatives who took control of the hospital.”
They numbered about 100 and were “organized, with several tents, with each group of operatives by themselves [in groups] of 4-5,” he said, adding that they “carried out attacks.”
Samur said Hamas and others operated at the hospital “on a large scale. There were so many of them, it was actually really scary.”
At the Swedish Hospital, he said he saw at least “seven operatives” dressed is civilian clothing and armed.
Samur said the operatives operated from the hospital and slept there. “It was a secure place and no one could locate them there.”
He said they used the hospital as a “base of operations, they prepared themselves from within the hospital, launched units for their missions outside.”
The IDF said Unit 504 also had sources in the Gaza Strip that were providing information that was translated into intelligence for the ground forces operating in the Palestinian enclave since late last month.
“We received thousands of phone calls from [Palestinians willing to provide information] at a magnitude never before seen in the unit. It is evident that the residents of the Gaza Strip are not satisfied with the barbaric behavior of Hamas. The ordinary citizen understands that Hamas is bringing a disaster on the residents of Gaza that will be difficult for them to recover from,” the senior officer adds.
As part of the IDF’s efforts to evacuate Palestinians from northern Gaza during the ground offensive, Unit 504 made more than 30,000 calls, sent more than 10 million text messages, and more than nine million recorded messages to Gazan civilians. The IDF also dropped some four million leaflets warning Palestinians of the dangers of staying in northern Gaza, it said.
The IDF said the evacuation from northern Gaza allowed it to carry out heavier strikes and operate more widely in the area against Hamas infrastructure. Air strikes continued in southern Gaza at the same time, with only the small al-Mawasi area along the coast declared by the IDF to be a “safe zone.”
Speaking on Monday following an assessment of the Shin Bet security service’s operations in the southern arena, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “The action of the Shin Bet in investigating terrorists caught in the field by the forces, alongside the work of the Shin Bet coordinators inside the Gaza Strip with the ground forces, is a crucial element that becomes the eyes through which the forces know where to go.”
“Every fighter who maneuvers in the field understands that… two important goals are achieved — first, to fight and defeat Hamas, to harm the terrorists, those who sent them, their senior commanders and their infrastructure. They also understand very well that in their actions, they bring about the return of the hostages as soon as possible,” said the defense minister, adding that the return of the hostages is a top priority.
“It’s right in front of me — the pictures of the children, the pictures of the families are always at the top of the list of priorities,” he said.