As a new communications blackout in the region reinforced fears for Palestinian people besieged inside Gaza’s major hospital on Friday, Israeli troops conducted building-by-building searches.
Since soldiers attacked the compound on Wednesday in search of a command center run by the terrorist group Hamas, al-Shifa hospital has become a focal point for Israeli operations in northern Gaza.
Hamas and hospital administrators deny the claim, and there has been international concern over the thousands of individuals believed to be trapped inside, including injured patients and newborn babies.
In reaction to the group’s October 7 attack, which murdered 1,200 people, the majority of whom were civilians, and took roughly 240 hostages, Israel has promised to annihilate Hamas.
According to Hamas-run municipal authorities in Gaza, Israel’s air and ground operations have killed 11,500 people, including thousands of children.
An AFPTV live camera saw thick dark smoke rising over the northern Gaza Strip on Friday.
Israeli officials have defended their operation, and the military announced Thursday that guns, ammunition, explosives, and the entrance to an underground shaft were discovered at Al-Shifa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that captives were being held at the medical facility.
“We had strong indications that they were held in the Shifa Hospital, which is one of the reasons we entered the hospital,” he told “CBS Evening News”.
“If they were (there), they were taken out,” he said.
Allegations regarding the facility have not been substantiated, and contacts with the Gaza Strip were cut off again on Friday.
All telecommunications were down, according to network provider Paltel group, since “all energy sources sustaining the network have been depleted, and fuel was not allowed in.”
The UN worried that the outage will exacerbate human suffering by hampering aid distribution and even sparking looting of its goods.
“When you have a blackout and you cannot communicate with anyone anymore… that triggers and fuels even more the anxiety and the panic,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
The army stated Friday that troops have retrieved the remains of kidnapped women soldier Noa Marciano, 19, “from a structure adjacent to Al-Shifa hospital.”
Marciano’s death was verified by the army earlier this week, but no cause was given. According to Hamas, she was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
The army announced on Thursday that soldiers near Al-Shifa had discovered the body of another hostage.
Yehudit Weiss, 65, was abducted from her house in Beeri, a border kibbutz settlement hit hard by Hamas’s savage attack.
Her husband was killed in the attack, a hostage support group said.
On Thursday, Jews and Arabs came together for the funeral of another casualty of the Beeri attack — peace activist Vivian Silver, who was hailed as an “extraordinary woman”.
Negotiations for the release of the hostages, some of whom are infants, are proceeding in exchange for a halt in violence.
Qatar, where Hamas maintains political offices, and Egypt have been mediating what Egypt’s foreign minister called “very delicate” talks on Thursday.
“We are hopeful that our efforts and the efforts of others will bring about the speedy release,” Sameh Shoukry said.
On the ground, UN organizations have warned that conditions for Palestinian people are fast deteriorating.
More than 1.5 million people have been internally displaced, and Israel’s siege of the enclave means that “civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” according to World Food Programme executive director Cindy McCain.
Food and water have become “practically non-existent,” according to the organization.
Lazzarini recounted children seeking refuge at a United Nations school “pleading for a sip of water or a loaf of bread.”