The Israeli military’s focus on hospitals in Gaza is growing more intense with a spokesperson inviting news media to visit a medical center for children on Monday, where he alleged parts of the basement had been a Hamas “command and control center” and may have been used to hold hostages.
He also pointed to a chair with a rope next to it and a piece of women’s clothing, which he said would be tested for DNA, and a makeshift toilet.
Hamas has repeatedly denied that its fighters hide under hospitals, as have Gazan health officials and hospital directors.
In a statement on Sunday, the IDF said it was enabling passage by foot and ambulance to evacuate from three hospitals: Al-Shifa, Al-Rantisi and Nasser hospitals.
But concerns are mounting that hospitals are now being targeted for military action, as searing images and accounts from civilians inside continue to emerge and as doctors warn they cannot evacuate their most vulnerable patients.
The IDF is also working to determine if there is a connection between an apparent nearby tunnel entrance and the rooms under the hospital.
Wires leading into the shaft provided power to the tunnel from solar panels fixed onto the roof of the Hamas commander’s house, he also said.
“We [put] a robot inside the tunnel and the robot saw a massive door, a door that is in the direction of the hospital,” Hagari said.
Zarquot said “the tunnel they claim to be a Hamas tunnel is actually an electrical wire assembly point. We raised the wires to prevent any electrical shocks caused by floods.”
Countless houses, tall apartment blocks, hotels and villas had been destroyed. Bullet and shell holes were visible everywhere and firefights were ongoing.
Days of intensive fighting near hospitals in the enclave in recent days have lead to what medical personnel still working there describe as siege-like conditions.
While hospitals are protected in times of war under international humanitarian law, that protection may be compromised if they are believed to be sites of military activity. The World Health Organization has recorded at least 137 attacks on health facilities in Gaza, which it said resulted in 521 deaths and 686 injuries.
Other protected sites, like schools, civilian shelters, and United Nations facilities have already been damaged or destroyed in over a month of Israeli airstrikes. On Monday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugee announced that over 100 UN staffers had been killed in Gaza since fighting began – the most in the United Nation’s history.
Israeli forces’ orders for hospitals to evacuate or risk danger from fighting as troops try to root out Hamas have sparked criticism from global health organizations and aid groups. A joint statement by the regional directors of UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Health Organization on Sunday called for “urgent international action to end the ongoing attacks on hospitals in Gaza.”
“We are horrified at the latest reports of attacks on and in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital, Al-Rantissi Naser Paediatric Hospital, Al-Quds Hospital, and others in Gaza city and northern Gaza, killing many, including children. Intense hostilities surrounding several hospitals in northern Gaza are preventing safe access for health staff, the injured, and other patients” the statement reads.
Doctors continue to refuse to leave Al-Shifa – the biggest in Gaza – as of Monday, , because they say they fear hundreds of patients will die if they are left behind. Israel has alleged a Hamas center is hidden in the basement there, a claim which the hospital staff and Hamas have denied.
Thousands of civilians are believed to be sheltering at the hospital, and approximately 700 at-risk patients are receiving treatment there, according to Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, Director-General of the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza.