NY Times: Tunnel under Al-Shifa Hospital used by Hamas ‘for cover, weapons storage’

Citing classified intelligence information, newspaper says tunnel under Gaza’s main hospital was twice as long as IDF has said, had water supply and apparent communications area

Israeli soldiers show the media an underground tunnel found underneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP/Victor R. Caivano, File)
Israeli soldiers show the media an underground tunnel found underneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP/Victor R. Caivano, File)

A tunnel underneath the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City was used extensively by Hamas for military operations and is nearly twice as long as the Israel Defense Forces had revealed, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

According to the report, based on classified Israeli intelligence documents the Times reviewed and information made public by the IDF, Hamas “used the hospital for cover, stored weapons inside it, and maintained a hardened tunnel beneath the complex that was supplied with water, power, and air-conditioning.”

It said the tunnel was at least 700 feet long, making it twice the length the IDF had publicly revealed. It extended far beyond the hospital, which is Gaza’s main medical complex, likely connecting to the larger tunnel network used by Hamas in Gaza City, and included “underground bunkers, living quarters, and a room that appeared to be wired for computers and communications equipment.”

Amid the war on the Palestinian terror group Hamas, Israel has presented evidence to back up long-standing allegations that Hamas used Shifa Hospital as a major operational hub and command center and that the hospital sat atop tunnels housing headquarters for Hamas fighters using patients as shields. The US has previously corroborated the evidence presented by Israel.

Israeli forces found the tunnel under the medical center by following ducts that ran from rooftop air-conditioning units connected to the hospital’s electricity supply, the report said. The IDF also discovered the hospital’s water supply was connected to the tunnel.

Images obtained by the Times showed the IDF found underground bunkers and living quarters in the subterranean space. In part of the tunnel that lay outside the hospital complex, soldiers found a room that appeared to have the infrastructure needed for computers and communication equipment. That part of the tunnel was not seen in a video released to the public by the IDF, the report said.

Israeli soldiers stand outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (Victor R. Caivano/AP)

Israeli troops entered the hospital on November 5, making the medical center a major focus of the Israeli operation against Hamas in Gaza, which was triggered on October 7 when some 3,000 terrorists stormed the border with Israel and unleashed an unprecedented attack on the country’s southern communities, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking 253 as hostages in Gaza.  Over half remain as captives.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from Gaza and end the group’s 15-year rule, launching an aerial campaign and subsequent ground offensive to meet its goal.

Israel claimed before the raid that there was a large Hamas command and control structure under the hospital. It also published footage from the hospital’s own security cameras showing hostages were brought there on the day of the attack.  But critics say the evidence so far does not back the assertion, according to the report.

The IDF has said that it was not able to fully explore the booby-trapped tunnel complex under the hospital before it destroyed it. Israeli and Qatari officials, who asked not to be named, told the Times that there was a time constraint due to an approaching temporary weeklong lull negotiated for the end of November. The tunnel was destroyed before the IDF left the hospital on November 24.

Though Hamas and Gaza officials have claimed Israel planted evidence, they have not directly refuted Israeli claims, the report noted. US officials, citing their own intelligence assessments, backed the Israeli version. US intelligence agencies obtained information that Hamas fighters had largely evacuated the complex days before Israel’s operation and destroyed documents and electronics as they left, according to an American official in January.

Along with Shifa, Israel accuses Hamas of using other hospitals in the Strip for terror purposes.

The Times report also clarified that what Israel had said was a tunnel entrance at the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Hospital for Rehabilitation and Prosthetics was a water storage area constructed in 2016 and cited engineering plans as well as images of the hospital being constructed.

These images released by the IDF on November 21, 2023, show the inside of a Hamas tunnel found under Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Times said that Shifa has a history of being used by Hamas fighters. In 2008, during a three-week conflict with Israel, a Times reporter saw Hamas fighters in civilian clothing inside the hospital. In 2014, during another bout of fighting with Israel, Hamas terrorists held news conferences at the hospital and used it as a meeting spot with journalists due to it being considered a location safe from assault.

After the 2014 conflict ended, Amnesty International reported that Hamas used some abandoned areas of Shifa, “including the outpatients’ clinic area, to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center.”

Two self-described pro-Palestinian doctors from Norway who had worked in the hospital during the conflict refuted the claims and said at the time there were no Hamas fighters in the hospital.

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