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Israeli forces entered Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital on Wednesday in what the military described as a “precise and targeted operation” against Hamas.
The advance of Israeli troops comes days after they surrounded the besieged strip’s largest medical complex, where tens of thousands of people were seeking refuge from Israeli bombardment of the coastal enclave.
Israel claims al-Shifa is a key location for Hamas’s operations because it sits atop the armed group’s underground infrastructure, which the Israeli military aims to destroy.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on social media platform X that its deployment to a “specific area” of the hospital was “based on intelligence information and an operational necessity.”
Doctors at the hospital in Gaza City have repeatedly denied that it is being used for Hamas military operations.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters that members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another smaller militant faction based in Gaza, were “stockpiling weapons” in al-Shifa and were “ready to move toward an Israeli military operation.” react”. against this institution”.
Al-Shifa and all but one of the other hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip are no longer functioning, according to the United Nations, as the Israeli military has laid siege to the strip as part of its more than five-week war against Hamas.
The desperate situation in Gaza hospitals has raised tensions between Israel and its allies, with the United States, France and other Western nations increasingly pressing Israel to exercise restraint in operations near medical facilities.
US President Joe Biden warned this week that hospitals “need to be protected” and said: “My hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive measures compared to hospitals.”
Kirby added that Hamas was using hospitals like al-Shifa and the tunnels below to hold hostages. But he said Washington does not support an airstrike on a hospital and does not want a “firefight in a hospital where innocent, helpless and sick people are simply trying to get the medical care they deserve.”
Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, has been suffering from a worsening humanitarian crisis since Israel launched a retaliatory offensive against Hamas after the Islamist militant group launched a devastating attack on October 7.
According to Israeli officials, the Hamas attack on southern Israel left about 1,200 people dead and about 240 hostages taken.
According to Palestinian health authorities, the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians.
Israeli forces launched a land offensive in the coastal enclave last month and surrounded Gaza City, Hamas’ main political and military base in the Strip.
More than 1.5 million people in Gaza have been forced to leave their homes and thousands of people have sought refuge in hospitals as the health system falls into a state of collapse.
The United Nations humanitarian department said 32 patients – including three premature babies – had died in al-Shifa since Saturday as a result of a power outage and “catastrophic conditions” in the hospital.
Mohamed Abu Silmeyeh, the director, warned Saturday that medics had to wrap babies in cellophane to keep them alive after incubators stopped working due to a lack of electricity.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said on Tuesday that 170 people had been buried in a mass grave in al-Shifa’s courtyard because it was “difficult to bury them elsewhere” “due to the siege from all sides.” .
The ministry said Monday that more than 100 bodies were left to decompose in al-Shifa and that “the smell of corpses” was everywhere. It said 8,000 displaced people sought refuge in hospital but there was no food or fresh water.