The Biden administration on Tuesday confirmed long-held Israeli assertions that Hamas is using medical facilities for military purposes, as the Israel Defense Forces closes in on Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, believed to host the terror group’s main command post.
“We have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters during a briefing.
“Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad members operate a command and control [center] from al-Shifa in Gaza City. They have stored weapons there and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility,” Kirby said, citing US intelligence assessments.
He clarified that the US does not support Israel striking the medical center from the air.
“Hospitals and patients must be protected,” the White House spokesperson said, stressing that innocent people are sheltering inside and do not “deserve not to be caught in the crossfire.”
The scenario highlighted the challenging military operation that Israel is trying to pull off, as Hamas embeds itself within civilian populations, Kirby said.
He asserted that Hamas’s actions do not lessen Israel’s responsibility to protect civilians.
In response, Hamas lashed out at the White House.
“These statements give a green light to the Israeli occupation to commit further brutal massacres targeting hospitals, with the goal of destroying Gaza’s healthcare system and displacing Palestinians,” the terrorist group said in a statement issued in English.
“The United States bears direct responsibility for enabling Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza,” the group added.
Fighting in recent days has centered around Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, which Jerusalem says is hiding Hamas’s main operations center in an underground bunker. The IDF has repeatedly denied that Israel has surrounded or besieged the medical center, saying that one entrance remains open and that it is working in conjunction with staff to allow for the safe passage of patients and civilians.
The focus on Shifa and other hospitals, which have complained of dwindling supplies and patient deaths due to the fighting, has ratcheted up pressure on Israel to do more to protect Gazan civilians caught in the crossfire. US and European officials have called on Israel to protect the medical complex, as the IDF continues to produce evidence showing that Hamas operates within and underneath hospitals as a matter of policy.
The United Nations estimates that at least 2,300 people — patients, staff, and displaced civilians — are inside and may be unable to escape because of fierce fighting in the area.
In a clip from a recent Al Jazeera broadcast that has gone viral, the Qatari network’s correspondent is shown interviewing a patient at a Gaza hospital who complains in front of the camera that Hamas fighters are hiding among the sick at the medical center.
Before the elderly patient can continue speaking, the Al Jazeera correspondent moves away so the remarks cannot continue to be heard on air.
The Qatari-funded Al Jazeera network has been accused by Israel’s backers of fanning the flames of conflict. Qatar is a key backer of Hamas and has been serving as a mediator in talks on the return of Israeli captives seized during the terror group’s massacres in southern Israel on October 7.
Al-Jazeera TV was asking this poor wounded old Palestinian man to give his eyewitness testimony; he said: what’s happening is criminal! Why is the resistance (Hamas) hiding among us? Why don’t they go to hell and hide there? They are not resistance!!
The journalist cut him off! pic.twitter.com/evrVfpCfj5
— Aimen Dean (@AimenDean) November 14, 2023
In his evening press conference, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said hospitals in the Gaza Strip risk losing their status as protected under international law due to Hamas’s use of the sites for military activities.
“In recent weeks we have stressed again and again that because of Hamas’s use of hospitals for military purposes, it will lose its special protection under intentional law,” Hagari said.
“We are forced to operate in a focused and careful manner against Hamas’s terror infrastructure in the hospitals,” he continued. “We call on the Hamas operatives who are hiding in the hospitals to surrender so as not to endanger those in the hospitals.”
Hagari also said that Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City completed its evacuation on Tuesday. The Palestinian Red Crescent confirmed the evacuation was completed and said the wounded were being transported for care in hospitals in the south of Gaza.
Several days ago, Hamas operatives fired RPGs and opened fire at troops from Al-Quds hospital.
In addition to its use of Shifa Hospital the military believes the terror group held hostages under Rantisi Hospital; the terror group has a tunnel network under the Indonesian Hospital; and opened fire at troops from the Sheikh Hamad Hospital.
“Hamas uses the hospital as a human shield for terror. The world must know what it does in the hospitals, and we will continue to expose its crimes,” Hagari said.
The IDF is in the process of coordinating the transfer of incubators from a hospital in Israel to #Gaza.
— COGAT (@cogatonline) November 14, 2023
The military spokesman added the offer made earlier in the day to provide 37 incubators for newborns and other supplies for Shifa Hospital still stands.
“The equipment is arranged and ready for delivery.”
It was not immediately clear how such a transfer would take place and whether purported fuel shortages would allow the Israeli incubators to be used if the hospital’s original ones were out of action.
The military shared on Tuesday a recording of a conversation between an IDF liaison officer and the director of the Shifa Hospital regarding the transfer of the incubators along with four breathing machines and other critical medical equipment.
???? ????????????????????????????????: Israel releases a call recording between a senior officer to Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) & the Director General of the Shifa Hospital regarding the transfer of the incubators for the children's ward there & additional medical assistance pic.twitter.com/V0yE1BnwZQ
— Lounge Digest (@loungedigest) November 14, 2023
On Sunday, the IDF said it had supplied 300 liters of fuel to Shifa Hospital, in coordination with its staff, but that Hamas had prevented the embattled medical center from accepting it.
Meanwhile, it was reported Tuesday that for the first time during the war against Hamas, Israel will allow UNRWA’s trucks in Gaza to refuel at Egypt’s Rafah crossing.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has been providing fuel for humanitarian purposes in Gaza for the past two weeks in coordination with the IDF but has been running low in recent days, a US official told the Walla news site.
Israel has thus far resisted efforts to allow fuel into Gaza, arguing that it will be diverted by Hamas. It says it tried to bring 300 liters of fuel to the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City but was turned down by the hospital’s administrators.
But following weeks of pressure from the Biden administration, Israel has now agreed to a plan that will allow fuel into Gaza via UNRWA’s trucks.
An Israeli source told Walla that the deal will see the UNRWA trucks refueled Wednesday with 48 hours’ worth of supply and will receive another two-day supply once the first runs out.
A humanitarian source quoted by Reuters said the trucks will receive 24,000 liters of diesel fuel, none of which will go to hospitals. The source also said the US pressured the UN to take the fuel.
A spokesperson for UNRWA said they had no information to provide when asked for comment.
The spokesperson pointed to UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini’s statement earlier Tuesday in which he called for fuel to be allowed into Gaza.
“UNRWA set off alarm bells over the fuel situation three weeks ago, warning about its fast-depleting supplies, and the impact on lifesaving operations,” Lazzarini said in the statement. “Since then, we have heavily rationed the use of fuel and accessed pre-existing, limited amounts stored in a depot inside the Gaza Strip, through close coordination with Israeli Authorities. The depot is now empty.”
“It is unbelievable that humanitarian agencies have to beg for fuel and operate on life support. Since the beginning of the war, fuel has been used as a weapon of war and this should stop immediately.”
Also Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the IDF broke through Hamas defenses around Gaza City, from the north and south.
He said the army was controlling the above-ground area of northern Gaza, especially in Gaza City.
“I authorized the army to continue advancing, both today and in the coming days, to complete the tasks. There will be no safe place [for Hamas] until we complete our mission and return the hostages,” Gallant said.
The defense minister said months of fighting in Gaza lay ahead, with Israel also planning to carry out operations in the southern Strip.
“We will hit Hamas everywhere. We will dismantle its command capabilities,” he said.
On the repeated Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon on northern Israel, Gallant said, “the safety of the residents of the north and the residents of the south are equally important. We will know what to do against any threat.”
War erupted after 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. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since taking over in 2007.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claimed Tuesday that 11,240 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, in figures that cannot be independently verified, do not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives, and also include those killed in failed Palestinian rocket launches.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.