Israeli forces search for Hamas inside Gaza hospital compound

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Israeli troops stormed into Gaza’s largest hospital, searching for traces of Hamas inside and beneath the facility, where newborns and hundreds of other patients have suffered for days without electricity and other basic necessities as fighting raged outside.

An Israeli tank drives through Gaza City.Credit: AP

Details from the raid which began on Wednesday AEDT remained sketchy, but officials from Israel and Gaza presented different accounts of what was happening at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City: The Israeli army released video showing soldiers carrying boxes labelled as “baby food” and “medical supplies,” while health officials talked of terrified staff and patients as troops moved through the buildings.

After encircling Shifa for days, Israel faced pressure to prove its claim that Hamas had turned the hospital into a command centre, using the patients, staff and civilians sheltering there to provide cover for its militants — part of Israel’s broader accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

Hamas and Gaza health officials deny militants operate in Shifa. Palestinians and rights groups say Israel has recklessly endangered civilians as it seeks to eradicate Hamas.

As Israel tightens its hold on northern Gaza, leaders have talked of expanding the ground operation into the south to root out Hamas.

Already, most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have crowded into the territory’s south, where a worsening fuel shortage Wednesday threatened to paralyse the delivery of humanitarian services and shut down mobile phone and internet service.

Elsewhere in the conflict:

  • Qatari mediators on Wednesday sought to negotiate a deal between Hamas and Israel that included the release of around 50 civilian hostages from Gaza in exchange for a three-day ceasefire. The deal, under discussion and coordinated with the US, would also see Israel release some Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails and increase the amount of humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza, the official said.
  • A US Navy warship shot down a drone in the Red Sea that emanated from Yemen, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday, in what appeared to be only the second time the United States has brought down projectiles near its warships since the Israel-Hamas conflict began.
  • The first truck carrying fuel into Gaza since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas crossed from Egypt on Wednesday to deliver diesel to the United Nations, though it will do little to alleviate shortages that have hampered relief efforts.
  • British and Irish ministers called for accelerated flows of aid into the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip during separate visits to the Egyptian capital Cairo on Wednesday.
  • The Pentagon has quietly ramped up military aid to Israel, delivering on requests that include more laser-guided missiles for its Apache gunship fleet, as well as 155mm shells, night-vision devices, bunker-buster munitions and new army vehicles, according to an internal Defence Department list.
  • The United Nations Security Council is due to vote later on Wednesday on a call for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a number of days to enable aid access, diplomats said.
  • Some diplomats said they expected the 15-member council to adopt the resolution, though some countries were likely to abstain. A resolution needs at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, Russia, China, France or Britain.

The human toll

Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7. Israel says 1200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the attack. Gaza health officials say more than 11,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed in Israel’s military offensive.

The response

  • Senior official with Gaza’s Health Ministry Munir al-Boursh said Israeli forces ransacked the basement and other buildings, including those housing the emergency and surgery departments. “Patients, women and children are terrified,” he said by phone. Another doctor there, Adnan al-Bursh, told Al-Jazeera TV that the troops removed displaced families who had been sheltering in the basement.
  • Head of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Israeli incursion into Al Shifa Hospital was “totally unacceptable…Hospitals are not battlegrounds.”
  • A senior Israeli military official said soldiers had “already found weapons and other terror infrastructure” within the premises of Al Shifa – evidence, he added, that Hamas has used the hospital as “a terror headquarter”.
  • Hamas called the assertion that weapons were found “a continuation of the lies and cheap propaganda” it said Israel was pumping out to justify “its crime aimed at destroying the health sector in Gaza”.
  • Dr Ahmed El Mohallalati, a surgeon, said that staff had hid as the fighting unfolded around the hospital overnight. As he spoke, the sound of what he described as “continuous shooting from the tanks” could be heard in the background.
  • “One of the big tanks entered within the hospital from the eastern main gate, and… they just parked in the front of the hospital emergency department,” he said.
  • Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said: “Without question we need a dramatic increase in aid at scale to meet the dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza, where a human catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes.“

    More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

    • Hamas had bigger plans on October 7: Intelligence about Hamas’ motivations reveals an intention to strike a blow of historic proportions and provoke an overwhelming Israeli response.
    • Escape from chaos: An Australian father faced heartbreaking dilemma: whether to flee Gaza to his children, or stay with his wife.
    • Open letters: Mass resignations, boardroom turmoil and angry donors are some of the ways the Israel-Hamas war is filtering down into Australia’s high-powered arts world.
    • Gaza’s youth: One of the cruelest ironies of war is that they are never started by children, yet it is children who suffer the most.

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