Israel has launched an overnight raid on Gaza’s largest medical facility – al Shifa hospital – hours after the US backed claims it was being used by Hamas fighters.
Israeli forces said they entered a “specified area” of the medical complex for a “precise and targeted” operation “against Hamas“.
The raid came hours after the US backed Israel’s claims that the medical facility had been used by Hamas as a base of operations.
Hamas – which flatly denied the claims – blamed US President Joe Biden and his administration for the Israeli raid, saying that the “adopting” of the allegations had effectively given Israel the “green light” to launch the operation.
However, in a statement, the White House said it did not support air strikes on the hospital and that it “did not want to see” a firefight inside the facility.
The White House also urged that patients “must be protected” during the raid.
While thousands have fled the hospital since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict, around 650 patients and 500 staff – along with around 2,500 displaced Palestinians – are thought to still be in al Shifa, according to UN estimates.
Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, said their intelligence put the number of people still inside the facility at around 1,000.
However, he told CNN that Israeli forces were “not overrunning the hospital” and instead were carrying out a targeted operation in a “specific location” of the al Shifa medical complex.
He did not give further details of the “complex” operation, but said it was a “military necessity” based on Israeli and US intelligence.
He also said IDF forces would “perhaps” rescue some of the estimated 240 hostages who were taken into Gaza during Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October.
Israel has repeatedly claimed that al Shifa – a large medical complex in Gaza City – along with other hospitals, have been used as bases by Hamas.
It has previously threatened to target al Shifa and has warned about the potential for the facility to lose its protection under international humanitarian law if used to hide fighters or store weapons.
On Monday, President Biden said that the hospital “must be protected” and said it was his “expectation” that there would be “less intrusive action”.
However, on Tuesday, the White House’s national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said the US had its own intelligence that showed Hamas were operating out of al Shifa.
Hamas responded to “strongly condemn and reject the claims”. However, hours later, the IDF announced it had launched its “targeted operation” at the hospital.
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In a statement announcing the raid, the IDF said it had “publicly warned time and again that Hamas’ continued military use of the hospital jeopardised its protected status under international law”.
“Yesterday [Monday], the IDF conveyed to the relevant authorities in Gaza once again that all military activities within the hospital must cease within 12 hours,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, they did not.”
The IDF urged any Hamas fighters in the hospital to surrender immediately.
In response, Hamas said it held Israel, President Biden, and his administration, “fully responsible for the repercussions of the occupation army’s storming of the Shifa Medical Complex, and what the medical staff and thousands of displaced people are exposed to, as a result of this brutal crime against a health facility protected by international law”.
The raid came amid claims of a humanitarian crisis at the hospital, which has been encircled by Israeli troops.
Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said 32 patients, including three babies, had died since the hospital’s emergency generator ran out of fuel on Saturday.
On Monday, the ministry released images of about a dozen premature babies wrapped in blankets together on a bed to keep them warm.
Israel’s military said it was working to bring incubators into Gaza and on Tuesday shared an image showing a soldier unloading incubators from a van.
The military did not make it clear if the incubators had been delivered or how they would be powered.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, at least 11,255 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its retaliatory strikes after the 7 October attack.