November 16, 2023
IDF Troops Storm Hamas Hospital Headquarters
Israeli forces late Tuesday night carried out a targeted operation against Hamas “in a specified area” of Gaza’s largest hospital. The operation took place hours after the White House backed Israeli assertions that Palestinian terrorist are running military operations from Gaza’s hospitals.
The IDF said it launched the “precise and targeted operation” in Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City after the White House had cautioned Israel earlier in the day not to carry out air strikes against the hospital.
The medical complex, which Israel and the US say is being used as a major center of operations by Hamas, has become one of the focal points of Israel’s war to root out the militant group. Naturally, Hamas denies that it uses the hospital to fight Israeli forces.
The Israeli military said the forces targeting the hospital include medical teams and Arabic speakers who are specially trained for the environment and are part of an effort to avoid civilian casualties. The military said it has warned Hamas to surrender from its position in the hospital, which it argues loses its protected status under international law by being used by combatants.
“In recent weeks, we have stressed again and again that because of Hamas’s use of hospitals for military purposes, they will lose their special protection under international law,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
“The IDF conveyed to the relevant authorities in Gaza once again that all military activities within the hospital must cease within 12 hours,” said an Israeli military statement as the operation began. “Unfortunately, it did not.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby backed Israel’s contention that Al-Shifa is used by Palestinian terrorists, and he cautioned Israel not to strike the hospital from the air. Thousands of patients and civilians seeking refuge have crowded the hospital grounds.
“We do not want to see a firefight in the hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people, are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve, not to be caught in a cross fire,” Kirby said on Tuesday.
After Israel announced the operation in the hospital, another spokesman for the National Security Council reiterated Kirby’s comments and added, “Hospitals and patients must be protected.”
US officials, including those at the Pentagon, declined to say whether the US intelligence on Al-Shifa Hospital was conveyed by Israel or was based on an independent assessment. Kirby said the information came from “a variety of intelligence methods of our own” and that the administration was able to lower the level of classification of some of the information to share it publicly.
What is Al-Shifa?
The Al-Shifa Hospital complex, the largest in the Gaza Strip, has become shorthand for Hamas’s willingness to turn its own people into human shields and sacrifice them as cannon fodder in the fight for global sympathy.
According to Israeli and US intelligence, Hamas has spent the better part of the last 16 years building a vast command complex under the hospital and setting up similar bases underneath other medical facilities in the Gaza Strip.
Of course, Hamas denies doing anything of the sort, and hospital officials—who have proven to be in cahoots with the terrorists—claim the facility houses nothing but the sick and injured and the medical professionals dedicated to helping them.
The hospital was spared in past Israeli operations out of concern for civilian life—at the cost of leaving the Hamas command center underneath it intact. It is a mistake that Israel will not repeat this time. The IDF says that the complex under Al-Shifa is one of the principal Israeli targets of the war and will not be left untouched, shrugging off the growing international outcry.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan previously said American officials have warned Israel not to move against hospitals that are still treating patients but agreed that Hamas is using hospitals and other civilian facilities as “human shields.”
Israel has long maintained that Al-Shifa is among the most egregious examples. Since the Simchas Torah massacre, it has shown reporters 3D representations of the complex, released audio recordings that show Hamas fighters discussing the tunnels under Al-Shifa, and released two videos of interrogations in which captured terrorists discuss the tunnels.
A large portion of the buildings that now make up the hospital were built by Israel when it ruled Gaza. It pulled out of the Strip in 2005, opening a window for Hamas to take control, and by 2007, the terrorists had begun building the command center under Al-Shifa.
At first, Hamas simply dug out areas off the original basements of Al-Shifa’s buildings; later, they went deeper, added floors, and connected it to the vast network of reinforced tunnels it was building across Gaza. Israeli officials say it has since grown into one of the hubs of a vast tunnel system that crisscrosses Gaza.
A former Shin Bet senior official said both Hamas and Israeli intelligence refer to the network as “the Metro” and compared the compound under Al-Shifa to a major station of the New York subway system. He said the compound includes several floors with designated spaces for meetings, living quarters, and storage facilities. It can hold at least several hundred people. The complex relies in part on electricity diverted from Al-Shifa, and there are multiple entrances to it in and around the hospital.
Hostage Release Deal Possible
A potential deal has emerged to release some of the hundreds of hostages held by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza in exchange for the release of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli prisons.
NBC News cited a US administration official confirming earlier reporting that a potential deal being discussed would see some 80 women and children held hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza released in exchange for Israel freeing imprisoned female and underage terror convicts. The official stressed that the reported deal was not a sure thing and that the US was following up on all options for the release of the hostages.
Of the roughly 240 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7, four civilians have been released by Hamas and one captured soldier was rescued by the IDF in a still-under-wraps operation.
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, Netanyahu was cautious when asked about the reported emerging hostage deal. “I think the less I say about it, the more I’ll increase the chances that it materializes,” Netanyahu said.
“We heard that there was an impending [hostage] deal of this kind or of that kind, and then we learned that it was all hokum. But the minute we started the ground operation, that began to change,” Netanyahu continued. “Military pressure is the one thing that might create a deal, and if a deal is available, well, we will talk about it when it’s there. We’ll announce it if it’s achievable.”
Several media outlets reported that the head of the Shin Bet security service, Ronen Bar, had traveled to Cairo and met Egypt’s intelligence minister Abbas Kamel to discuss a potential deal, with a source involved in the talks telling Israel’s Kan that the sides were the “closest” they have been to a deal.
A separate report by ABC News cited an unnamed senior Israeli political source saying Tuesday that progress had been made and a “breakthrough could come in the next 48–72 hours.”