IDF southern command chief: ‘We see clear Hamas presence in all hospitals’

Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman says terror group making ‘cynical use’ of hospitals; IDF posts images showing tunnel shaft at Shifa, weapons at Al-Quds, tunnel inside Rantisi hospitals

Head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, peers into a tunnel shaft at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, November 17, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, peers into a tunnel shaft at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, November 17, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian terror group Hamas has a “clear presence” in all Gaza hospitals, said Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the IDF Southern Command, on Friday.

Finkelman carried out an assessment at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, telling troops, “We see the presence of Hamas in all hospitals, it is a clear presence. They make cynical use of the hospitals, like here in the heart of Shifa.” Israeli forces at the hospital uncovered an entrance to a Hamas tunnel and a cache of weapons, in addition to other findings over the past few days.

The Israel Defense Forces on Friday released new images showing the tunnel shaft found in the hospital complex.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a briefing Friday that troops found additional underground infrastructure at Shifa, and are still searching the complex for information on the hostages.

The announcement by Hagari came some 48 hours after the IDF launched a raid of Gaza’s largest hospital, where it says Hamas’s main command center is located underneath.

Over the past day, the military said it recovered the bodies of two Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 from the area of Shifa Hospital.

IDF soldiers operate at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in a handout photo distributed on November 15, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Thursday evening, the IDF said troops had located the body of Yehudit Weiss in a building near the medical center’s compound. On Friday morning, the IDF said it had also recovered the body of Cpl. Noa Marciano a day earlier from another building adjacent to Shifa, three days after announcing she had been killed in Hamas captivity.

Hagari said in a Friday evening press conference that the military would “continue to deepen our operational activity at Shifa Hospital. Today, we found more underground infrastructure, and to collect every bit of information on the hostages.”

“Our troops are operating in the area, investigating the tunnel shafts found in the hospital,” he added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that “significant findings” were uncovered at Shifa, as the army is moving on to the “next phase” of its ground operation.

In the briefing, the military also released an image showing weapons discovered by troops inside Gaza City’s Al-Quds Hospital and another set of images showing the inside of a Hamas tunnel inside Rantisi Hospital.

An IDF handout photo showing weapons discovered by troops inside Gaza City’s Al-Quds Hospital, November 16, 2023. (IDF)

The military has been expected to further widen its operations in northern Gaza, which has been the focus since Israel launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip late last month.

Hagari said in the Friday briefing that the Israeli military “will act wherever Hamas is — and it is also in the southern Gaza Strip.”

Israel’s ground operation in Gaza followed three weeks of intense aerial campaigns across the Strip in response to Hamas’s shock October 7 invasion of southern Israeli communities under cover of thousands of rockets, when thousands of terrorists killed about 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians of all ages in their homes and people at an outdoors music festival.

Hamas and other allied terror factions also took about 240 hostages, also of all ages, into Gaza.

Israel declared war the same day and has vowed to destroy the terror group and eliminate its terror capabilities in Gaza, which Hamas has ruled since taking over in a 2007 coup.

Israel’s intense aerial operation targeted Hamas terror infrastructure and sites in the northern Gaza Strip and has repeatedly urged Palestinian civilians to move south as Israeli troops moved in on the northern part of the Palestinian enclave in late October.

Damaged buildings are seen in the northern Gaza Strip, November 16, 2023 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

On Friday, Channel 12 news reported that according to the current assessment of Israel’s security establishment, the damage to the Gaza Strip caused by the fighting will take five years to repair, with about 300,000 homes and apartments destroyed in this war so far.

Israel’s government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been ambivalent on what it envisions for Gaza after the war.

Last week, Netanyahu said the IDF will remain in control of the Gaza Strip after the war ends, and will not rely on international forces to oversee security along the border.

On Friday, he said Israel doesn’t plan to keep soldiers inside Gaza after the war even if it will maintain security control over the Strip for the foreseeable future. And just hours earlier, he told Fox News that Israel does not want to re-occupy or govern the Strip.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel will have “overall security responsibility” over the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” after the war against Hamas ends.

US officials have raised the possibility in recent weeks that an international force, possibly with troops from neighboring Arab allies, could manage security in the Strip for an interim period until it can be returned to a functioning Palestinian government, which Washington hopes will be the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu told NPR on Friday that he’s “not sure of keeping troops inside. And in fact, it’s not particularly necessary because it’s very small.

As for who will govern Gaza after the war, “We need a cultural change in any civilian administration in Gaza. It can’t be committed to funding terrorism,” Netanyahu said, in a swipe at the Palestinian Authority.

He said Israel will not be able to accept anyone who shares Hamas’s goals and the terror group’s inculcation of teaching Palestinian children that Israel has to be destroyed.

“For the foreseeable future, Israeli overall military responsibility. But there also has to be a civilian government there,” he clarified.

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