Middle East

The Al-Shifa Hospital Was Also A Hamas Base

A hospital is a protected area under international law, but it automatically loses that status when it is converted into a military facility. This is precisely what happened when Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip, was cynically repurposed into a command center and operational hub by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. By all accounts, they used it as a base to control northern Gaza.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference on March 31, “No hospital in the world looks like this. This is what a house of terrorists looks like.”

Netanyahu made this telling comment just hours before the Israeli army withdrew from the hospital on April 1 after a two-week operation that began on March 18. Israel launched its latest raid in the hospital because Hamas operatives had regrouped there and were planning fresh attacks.

The layout of Al-Shifa Hospital

During the battles, in the course of which two Israeli soldiers were killed and eight were wounded, more than 200 Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen were eliminated. Among them was Raad Thabet, a Hamas commander in charge of recruitment and supply acquisition. Israeli spokesman Daniel Hagari described him as one of Hamas’ senior commanders. He had been in close contact with Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, the top two Hamas leaders.

The Al-Shifa Hospital on April 1 after Israel’s second raid

Israel also arrested about 500 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

To no one’s surprise, Israeli troops found caches of weapons, including assault rifles, sniper rifles, handguns, mortars, explosive devices, and other military equipment. These arms and munitions were hidden inside patient pillows and beds and in the drop ceilings and walls of buildings.

Weapons found by Israel in the maternity ward of Al-Shifa Hospital

General Herzi Halevi, the chief of staff of Israel’s armed forces, said the raid had been “extremely successful.”

According to reports, three of the hospital’s main structures — the main emergency room, the maternity ward and an annex known as the Qatari building — were reduced to rubble. The reason is clear. The gunmen inside refused to surrender and engaged Israel in fierce battles, forcing it to destroy their misbegotten sanctuaries.

It should be noted that Israel took every precaution to ensure that innocent civilians were kept out of harm’s way. Upwards of  350 patients and medical staff were evacuated by the Israel Defence Forces to a “designated compound” in another part of the hospital, where they were provided with humanitarian aid and supplies.

Satellite image of Al-Shifa Hospital

This was the second time since November 5 that Israel was forced to enter the hospital in a clearing operation. During the first raid, Israel presented incontrovertible proof to bolster its longstanding claim that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had grossly misused the hospital for military purposes, an allegation that Hamas and its supporters heatedly denied.

A tunnel under the Al-Shifa Hospital

During this operation, Israel discovered a tunnel some 300 meters in length connected to Hamas’ large tunnel network. It contained bunkers, living quarters, ammunition depots and a room wired for communications equipment and computers.

These discoveries by Israel confirm an important point.

Hamas and other armed organizations in Gaza have been using civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and mosques, as human shields.

This, in large part, accounts for the high Palestinian civilian death toll since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, during which Hamas terrorists killed roughly 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers, raped and sexually brutalized dozens of women, and abducted some 250 hostages.

Given Hamas’ outrageous tactics, Israel had no alternative but to root out Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists entrenched in the hospital. If the past is any guide, Israeli troops may well have to return a third time to ensure that the hospital is not misused yet again.