Israeli Army Launches Operation At Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital

The Israeli army launched Monday an operation around Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, with witnesses reporting air strikes on the devastated neighbourhood where it is located.

Israeli soldiers “are currently conducting a precise operation in the area of the Shifa hospital”, a statement from the military said.

“The operation is based on intelligence information indicating the use of the hospital by senior Hamas terrorists”.

Witnesses in Gaza City told AFP they saw tanks surround the hospital site.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war have sought shelter in the complex, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

The Israeli army had also carried out a November operation in Al-Shifa, sparking an international outcry.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of running military operations from hospitals and other medical centres, claims the militant group denies.

The Hamas government media office in Gaza condemned the operation, saying that “the storming of the Al-Shifa medical complex with tanks, drones, and weapons, and shooting inside it, is a war crime”.

The health ministry in the besieged Hamas-run territory said it had received calls from people near the hospital site who claimed there were dozens of casualties.

“No one could transport them to the hospital due to the intensity of gunfire and artillery shelling,” the ministry said.

The Israeli army has carried out multiple operations in and around medical facilities across the Gaza Strip since the start of the war.

The war began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack from Gaza on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Palestinian militants seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack, but dozens were released during a week-long truce in November.

Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 — eight soldiers and 25 civilians — who are presumed dead.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has carried out a relentless bombardment and ground offensive that the health ministry in the Palestinian territory says has killed at least 31,645 people, most of them women and children.

According to the Israeli military, troops “were instructed on the importance of operating cautiously, as well as on the measures to be taken to avoid harm to the patients, civilians, medical staff, and medical equipment” at Al-Shifa.

The statement also said Arabic speakers had been deployed in order to “facilitate dialogue with the patients remaining in the hospital”.

It added: “There is no obligation for the patients and medical staff to evacuate.”

Following its November 15 operation on Al-Shifa, the Israeli military said it had found weapons and other military equipment hidden in the site — claims Hamas has denied.

It also claimed it had found a 55-metre tunnel in the basement and shared footage that it said proved hostages had been held there, which Hamas also denied.

According to the UN, 155 health facilities in the Gaza Strip have been damaged since the war began.

‘Where should they go?’ 

The Hamas-run health ministry reported early Monday that scores of individuals were murdered across the Gaza Strip overnight.

Over the weekend, 12 members of the same family were killed when their home was bombed in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza.

Leen Thabit, a Palestinian girl who was rescuing a white dress from under the rubble of their devastated house, wailed as she told AFP that her relative had been murdered in the strike.

“She died. “Only her dress remains,” Thabit remarked.

For several weeks, the war’s focus has been on southern Gaza, where around 1.5 million civilians who have fled the rest of the destroyed territory have taken refuge since the beginning of the conflict.

Israel’s allies, including the United States, have advised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government against initiating a full-scale operation in Rafah, near the Egyptian border.

Rafah is the only urban area in Gaza that Israeli ground soldiers have yet to enter.

Visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters that if such an offensive resulted in “a large number of casualties,” any peaceful development in the region would be extremely difficult.

Israel has claimed, however, that its war goal of removing Hamas cannot be fulfilled without operating beyond the border.

On Sunday, Netanyahu promised that people crowded into the south of the strip would be able to escape before forces arrived in pursuit of Hamas fighters.

According to Netanyahu’s office, he approved the military’s plan for an operation in Rafah as well as “the evacuation of the population” on Friday.

“Our goal in eliminating the remaining terrorist battalions in Rafah goes hand-in-hand with enabling the civilian population to leave Rafah,” Netanyahu said at a press appearance alongside Scholz.

“It’s not something that we will do while keeping the population locked in place.”

As others have done, Scholz raised the question:

“Where should they go?”

‘Out of harm’s way’

The United States, which supplies Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, has stated that it seeks a “clear and implementable plan” to keep people safe.

According to the UN, Gaza is under threat of hunger, and many people of the area have been displaced several times in recent months.

There has been no indication of where Palestinians crowded into Rafah could go, and any idea of Palestinian dispersal outside the Palestinian Territories is frowned upon in the Arab world.

A Hamas peace proposal demands for an Israeli departure from “all cities and populated areas” in Gaza during a six-week truce, as well as increased humanitarian aid, according to a group official.

International envoys were scheduled to meet in Qatar soon to resume stalled discussions on a cease-fire and hostage release agreement.

Israel intends to join the discussions, and a cabinet meeting to determine the delegation’s mandate was held on Sunday night, according to Netanyahu’s office, though the outcome was not immediately clear.

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