Israel reveals signs of Hamas activity at Shifa, but a promised command center remains elusive
By JOSEF FEDERMAN Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — Three weeks ago, the Israeli military unveiled a detailed 3D model of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital – showing a series of underground installations that it said was part of an elaborate Hamas command and control center under the territory’s largest health-care center.
Days after taking control of the hospital, the military has yet to unveil this purported center. But it has released videos of weapons allegedly seized inside the hospital, a tunnel running through the complex and videos appearing to show Hamas militants dragging hostages through the hospital’s hallways. Israel says there will be much more to come.
What Israel finds – or fails to find – could play a large part in its efforts to rally international support for its war against Hamas, launched on Oct. 7 in response to a bloody cross-border attack by the Islamic militant group.
Here is a closer look at Israel’s raid on the Shifa Hospital.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Gaza’s hospitals have played a central role in the dueling narratives surrounding the war.
Hospitals enjoy special protected status under the international laws of war. But they can lose that status if they are used for military purposes.
Israel has long claimed that Hamas uses hospitals, schools, mosques and residential neighborhoods as human shields. In particular, it says Hamas has hidden command centers and bunkers underneath the sprawling grounds of Shifa. The United States says its own intelligence corroborates those claims. Hamas denies the allegations.
Israel says other hospitals are similarly used for military purposes. It has ordered the evacuations of a number of Gaza hospitals, including Shifa, as it presses ahead with its ground operation against Hamas.
The U.N. and other international organizations say these evacuations have endangered patients and overwhelmed the remaining hospitals in the besieged territory.
With Israel already facing mounting international criticism of its offensive, a failure to uncover a significant Hamas presence could step up the pressure to halt the operation. Israel has vowed to press ahead until it destroys Hamas.
WHAT HAS ISRAEL FOUND?
The Israeli military has released videos showing AK47s, ammunition and other military equipment it said was found in the hospital’s MRI unit. It also said it discovered a Toyota pickup truck filled with weapons in a hospital garage. The vehicle appears to be the same type of truck used by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 incursion.
On Sunday, it released a video of a 55-meter (60-yard) tunnel in a hospital courtyard. The underground structure was heavily fortified and led to a blast-proof door with an opening that Israel says was meant to be used by Hamas snipers.
It also released security-camera images of Hamas militants escorting what Israel said were two hostages – one from Thailand, the other from Nepal – who were seized in the Oct. 7 cross-border attack. One video showed a group of men forcefully dragging their hostage through the hospital’s main entrance and down a hallway. The other showed a group of men, including at least one gunman, pushing a motionless man on a stretcher in a hallway. Hospital workers could be seen in both videos looking on.
The videos had time stamps from the morning of Oct. 7, matching the time of the attack. But the faces of the two purported hostages were blurred, making it difficult to verify the authenticity of the videos.
The army also released photos of what it said were two military jeeps stolen from the Israeli military. The photos showed the jeeps parked in the hospital complex on the morning of the attack.
“By now the truth is clear: Hamas wages war from hospitals, wages terror from hospitals,” said the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari. “Everyone who cares about the future of humanity must condemn Hamas.”
Hamas played down the images, saying it had been offering the men in its custody medical treatment.
“We put our fighters at risk to guarantee the injured prisoners the best treatment possible in the Gaza Strip’s hospitals,” the militant group said in a statement.
Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas leader based in Beirut, acknowledged that Israel could find a tunnel “here or there.”
“We don’t deny there are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels in and around Gaza,” he told a news conference. But he said Hamas does not use hospitals for militant activities.
WHAT HASN’T ISRAEL FOUND?
Israel has not said where the Shifa tunnel leads to or given specifics on what it was used for.
It also has not yet provided anything close to the images of underground bunkers and conference rooms it showed in that Oct. 27 illustration.
Hamdan, the Hamas leader, mocked the Israeli discoveries so far. “The Israelis said there was a command and control center, which means that the matter is greater than just a tunnel,” he said.
Israeli military officials say those initial illustrations were “conceptual” and not meant to be taken literally. They have also promised many more discoveries as troops continue the painstaking task of scouring a complex spread out over more than 10 acres (40,000 square meters).
“It’s going to take time,” said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, another military spokesman.
AP’s full war coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war