A day after taking control of the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army was still searching Thursday afternoon the site that Israel says concealed a secret Hamas base, and to support its arguments, it offered a video showing other weapons she claims to have found there. and what he describes as a tunnel entrance.
Footage shown by Israel from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City could not be independently verified and still did not prove the existence of the sprawling Hamas operation that the hospital would have concealed.
But Israeli officials said the search was bound to be slow, citing physical difficulties and risks. They added that Hamas had ample warning of the arrival of Israeli forces and that it was time to suppress the evidence. In an apparent attempt to fend off skepticism about the evidence released so far, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, told a news conference Thursday evening that troops searched hospitals, building by building, sometimes under fire. .
“This is a complex activity that requires time to ensure first and foremost the security of our forces and then operational success,” he said. “In Shifa, Rantisi, Al-Quds and other hospitals, we see Hamas activities above and below ground. This is not a coincidence: this is Hamas’ method.”
Since its invasion of Gaza 20 days ago, Israel has presented Al-Shifa as one of its main targets, saying it sits atop a network of underground fortifications set up by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group. who controlled the entire territory until the start of the invasion. Hamas and the hospital management denied the accusations.
The claim that Hamas operated from the sprawling hospital complex has been at the heart of Israel’s defense of the death toll caused by its military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 11,000 people, according to security officials. health of Gaza. Israeli officials say the considerable loss of life was caused in part by Hamas’s decision to hide its military fortifications and command centers inside civilian infrastructure like Al-Shifa.
One of the videos released Thursday by the Israeli army showed a white van on the hospital grounds and, lying on the ground nearby, the arsenal that the narrator said it contained: automatic rifles, launchers rockets, ammunition magazines. , hand grenades and other equipment.
Another video shows excavated earth and a door leading to an underground passage, which the New York Times reports is at the northern perimeter of the sprawling hospital complex. Israeli forces appear to have destroyed a small structure and excavated a large area to uncover the opening, according to an analysis of satellite images and video.
On Wednesday, the military released a video showing a dozen firearms, a grenade, protective vests and military uniforms that soldiers allegedly found in an MRI unit at the hospital.
At a news conference Thursday in Beirut, Lebanon, Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan called the video “weak and ridiculous storytelling.” Mr. Hamdan accused Israel of planting the weapons to show a militant presence at the hospital.
Israel’s ability to prove its claims could determine whether its foreign allies continue to support its military response to Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. White House officials said they believed, based on intelligence gathered independently from Israeli sources, that Hamas was using the hospital as a base.
Israel received widespread international support after the Hamas-led raid killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials. But as the Israeli counterattack drags on, devastating much of Gaza, there are signs that allies are beginning to take a more nuanced stance.
The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday called for immediate multi-day pauses in fighting to allow more aid to reach civilians. The United States – a key ally that often vetoes UN statements critical of Israel – abstained from voting on the resolution, allowing it to pass.
“The occupation resorted to this farce to cover up the fall of its so-called history,” Mr. Hamdan added.
He said Israeli troops had “terrorized the patients and detained them in a barbaric manner,” and accused them of “destroying the medicine warehouse and deactivating the MRI machine.”
On October 27, the day its forces invaded Gaza, the Israeli military released a map of the site suggesting that Hamas operated four underground complexes under the hospital’s internal medicine department, its thoracic and dialysis department, its MRI department and a rest area. at its western limit. The map also suggested that Hamas operated a command center within or near the hospital’s outpatient clinic.
The military has yet to publicly present proof of the existence of any of these five sites. He said in a statement that soldiers found an above-ground command center in the MRI unit, without providing further evidence. Hamas dismissed the claim as “a fabricated story that no one would believe.”
An Israeli army spokesman, Major Nir Dinar, said Israel needed more time to find and present evidence.
“It’s taking time because Hamas knew we were coming and they tried to hide the evidence of their war crimes,” Major Dinar said. “They ruined the scene, they brought sand to cover some of the floors and they created double walls.”
Hwaida Saad, Aric Toler And Malachi Browne reports contributed.