(AP) — Israeli forces raided Gaza’s largest hospital early Wednesday, where hundreds of patients, including newborns, have been stranded with dwindling supplies and no electricity, as the army extended its control across Gaza City and the north.
Shifa Hospital has become a symbol of the widespread suffering of Palestinian civilians during the war between Israel and Hamas, which erupted after the militant group killed some 1,200 people and seized around 240 captives in a surprise October 7 attack into southern Israel.
The hospital is also at the heart of clashing narratives over who is to blame for the thousands of deaths and widespread destruction in the besieged territory. Israel accuses Hamas of using Palestinians as human shields, while Palestinians and rights groups say Israel has recklessly endangered civilians as it seeks to eradicate the group.
Mohammed Zaqout, the director of hospitals in Gaza, said Israeli tanks were inside the medical compound and that soldiers had entered buildings, including the emergency and surgery departments, which house intensive care units. It was not clear if he was speaking from inside the compound.
“The occupation forces stormed the buildings,” he said angrily over the phone. He said the patients, including children, are terrified. “They are screaming. It’s a very terrifying situation … we can do nothing for the patients but pray.”
The Israeli military said it was carrying out a “precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital.” It said the soldiers were accompanied by medical teams and had brought medical supplies and baby food as well as incubators and other equipment.
Israel says Hamas has a massive command centre inside and beneath Shifa, but has not provided visual evidence, while Hamas and the hospital staff have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Hours before the raid, the United States said its own intelligence indicated militants have used Shifa and other hospitals — and tunnels beneath them — to support military operations and hold hostages.
The Israeli military said that the forces raiding Shifa are also searching for hostages. The plight of the captives, who include men, women and children, has galvanised Israeli support for the war, and families and supporters of the hostages are holding a protest march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Two and a half weeks after sending tanks and ground troops into northern Gaza, Israeli forces also claimed control of several key buildings and a downtown neighbourhood in Gaza City.