Israel reveals signs of Hamas activity at Shifa, but a promised command center remains elusive
JERUSALEM (AP) — Nearly a month 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 facility.
Days after taking control of the hospital, the military has yet to unveil any infrastructure nearly as sprawling and developed as the purported center. But it has discovered what it says is an underground bunker accessible by a narrow tunnel and videos appearing to show Hamas militants dragging hostages through the hospital’s hallways. Israel has also displayed a cache of weapons that it says soldiers found in their search of the hospital. The military 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 brought journalists, including an Associated Press correspondent, into Gaza on Wednesday to show them what it claimed was a Hamas military facility under Shifa. Soldiers unveiled what appeared to be a subterranean dormitory accessible by a heavily fortified underground tunnel that Israeli authorities say stretches for hundreds of meters (yards). The military said the dormitory lay behind a blast-proof door with an opening meant to be used by Hamas snipers.
The quarters included an air conditioner, kitchen, bathroom and pair of metal cots in a room fashioned from rusty white tile. They appeared to be out of use.
The military has also released videos showing dozens of AK-47s, ammunition and other military equipment it said was found in the hospital’s MRI unit. Additionally, it 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.
Military officials 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 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 military has also recovered the bodies of two Israeli hostages that it says were found near the hospital compound. Military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari showed journalists the stretcher where the Israeli military found one of the bodies.
Hagari alleged that Hamas militants killed the hostage, Cpl. Noa Marciano, inside Shifa after she was wounded in an Israeli airstrike on Nov. 9. He said they then left her body on a stretcher outside the hospital compound. The Associated Press could not independently verify Hagari’s claims.
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,” Hagari said. “Everyone who cares about the future of humanity must condemn Hamas.”
Hamas played down the images, saying it offered 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?
Israeli officials described the underground bunker unveiled Wednesday as a smoking gun, a Hamas hideout. But there was no conclusive proof in the rooms that they had been used by Hamas militants. What’s more, the rooms — bare, small, and rusted — were a far cry from the elaborate command center officials originally said was underneath Shifa.
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
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.