Troops raid Gaza hospital in hunt for remains of hostages, nab dozens of terror suspects

Military cites ‘credible evidence’ captives were brought to Nasser medical center in Khan Younis, highlights its efforts to keep facility functioning for patients

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image published February 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image published February 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces raided the main hospital in southern Gaza on Thursday saying it had reasonable information hostages were likely held there and the bodies of some captives may still be in the complex.

The operation came a day after thousands of people sheltering in the complex left the premises at Israel’s urging, with fighting raging near the hospital in Khan Younis, which has been the main target of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in recent weeks.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the military has “credible intelligence” that Hamas held hostages at Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, and there may be bodies of hostages currently hidden there.

“Since the Hamas massacre of October 7th, the IDF has been operating to fulfill its mission of dismantling Hamas and bringing our hostages home,” Hagari said in an English-language video statement.

“Sadly, we know that some hostages are no longer alive. We are committed to finding and returning the bodies of those hostages in Gaza,” he said.

Hagari later announced that troops detained dozens of terror suspects at Nasser Hospital. He said among those detained at the hospital were a Hamas ambulance driver who participated in the October 7 onslaught, another suspect who admitted to having taken part in the attacks, and a PFLP operative.

Terror suspects nabbed at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in this photo handout by the IDF, February 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said Israel launched a “massive incursion” on the hospital with heavy shooting that wounded many of the displaced people who had sheltered there.

He said the military had ordered medics to move all patients into an older building that was not properly equipped for their treatment.

Israel has been carrying out operations in Gaza to topple the Hamas regime and recover the hostages who have been held captive in Gaza since October 7, when Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and abducted 253 others. Of the half or so who have not been freed, 29 are considered to be no longer alive.

Hamas is also holding two Israelis who entered the Strip nearly a decade ago, and the bodies of two soldiers killed in 2014.

During an evening press conference, Hagari said troops also found weapons, including explosives and mortars, within the premises of Nasser Hospital. Last month, a rocket was fired from the hospital at troops in Gaza.

The IDF said Hamas maintained a command room, an intelligence and interrogation complex, and a police station at Nasser Hospital.

The IDF also released footage from the interrogation of a captured Hamas operative, who said that at least 10 hostages were held at Nasser Hospital.

“We conduct precise rescue operations — as we have in the past — where our intelligence indicates that the bodies of hostages may be held,” Hagari said in his earlier statement.

He said the IDF has “credible intelligence from a number of sources, including from released hostages, indicating that Hamas held hostages at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis and that there may be bodies of our hostages in the Nasser Hospital facility.”

“As was proven with the Shifa Hospital, Rantisi Hospital, Al Amal Hospital, and many other hospitals across Gaza, Hamas systematically uses hospitals as terror hubs,” Hagari said.

Israel has provided evidence showing that Hamas used those facilities for its operations, which would make them legitimate targets under international law.

Palestinians fleeing the Israeli offensive against Hamas in Khan Younis arrive at Rafah, Gaza Strip, February 14, 2024. AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Hagari said that according to the IDF’s intelligence assessments, over 85 percent of “major medical facilities” in Gaza have been used by Hamas for terror activity.

“Because Hamas terrorists are likely hiding behind injured civilians inside Nasser Hospital right now and appear to have used the hospital to hide our hostages there too, the IDF is conducting a precise and limited operation inside Nasser Hospital,” he said.

“This sensitive operation was prepared with precision and is being conducted by IDF special forces who underwent specified training,” Hagari noted.

He stressed that “a key objective as defined by our military mission is to ensure that Nasser Hospital continues its important function of treating Gazan patients.”

Workers and staff unload medical aid delivered by the International Committee of the Red Cross at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 9, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

While displaced Gazans sheltering on hospital grounds were ordered to leave, Hagari said that over the previous few days the army had made it clear to hospital staff that “there is no obligation for patients or staff to evacuate the hospital.”

“We have doctors and Arabic-speaking IDF officers on the ground to communicate to the staff and patients inside the Nasser hospital. Our message to them is clear: We seek no harm to innocent civilians. We seek to find our hostages and bring them home. We seek to hunt down Hamas terrorists wherever they may be hiding,” he added.

In addition, the IDF has facilitated the transfer of medical supplies, oxygen tanks, and fuel for electricity to the hospital in recent days, “to ensure its essential functions continue uninterrupted,” he said.

Hagari said the IDF has been urging other Gazans, in Arabic, by phone and via loudspeakers, “to move away from the danger that Hamas puts them in — via a humanitarian corridor we opened for this purpose. For the purpose of protecting uninvolved civilians in Gaza.”

However, health authorities in Gaza claimed Thursday that alleged Israeli fire had killed a patient and wounded six others inside the medical center.

Video of the aftermath of an alleged Israeli strike hours before the hospital raid showed medics scrambling to wheel patients on stretchers through a corridor filled with smoke or dust. A medic used a cellphone flashlight to illuminate a darkened room where a wounded man screamed out in pain as gunfire echoed outside. The Associated Press could not authenticate the videos but they were consistent with its reporting.

Dr. Khaled Alserr, one of the remaining surgeons at Nasser Hospital, told the AP that the seven patients hit early Thursday were already being treated for past wounds. On Wednesday, a doctor was lightly wounded when a drone opened fire on the upper stories of the hospital, he said.

“The situation is escalating every hour and every minute,” he said.

The IDF said Wednesday that it had opened a secure corridor for displaced people to leave the hospital but would allow doctors and patients to remain there. Videos circulating online showed scores of people walking out of the facility on foot carrying their belongings on their shoulders.

The military had ordered the evacuation of Nasser Hospital and surrounding areas last month. But as with other health facilities, medics said patients were unable to safely leave or be relocated, and thousands of people displaced by fighting elsewhere remained there. Palestinians say nowhere is safe in the besieged territory, as Israel continues to carry out strikes in all parts of it.

“People have been forced into an impossible situation,” said Lisa Macheiner of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which has staff in the hospital.

“Stay at Nasser Hospital against the Israeli military’s orders and become a potential target, or exit the compound into an apocalyptic landscape where bombings and evacuation orders are a part of daily life.”

Negotiations over a ceasefire and hostage release have seen little progress in recent days.

The war has wrought massive destruction in the Gaza Strip, with more than 28,000 people killed, according to Gaza-based Hamas health officials. That figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 10,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle and as a consequence of the terror groups’ own rocket misfires. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

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