Initial IDF search of Al-Shifa Hospital reveals Hamas weapons, intelligence materials, military equipment
Deal to free some of the hostages in exchange for a short cease-fire appears to be close, unconfirmed reports say
Israeli soldiers continued to search the area in and around Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Thursday, a day after the army revealed what it said was an operational command center that included a cache of weapons, intelligence materials and military equipment uncovered in the medical campus’ MRI building.
Lt. Col. (res) Jonathan Conricus, the IDF’s spokesman for the foreign press, showed reporters on Wednesday a video of a collection of AK-47 rifles, ammunition, body armor, uniforms and operational guides he said belonged to Hamas that were discovered hidden behind an MRI machine. As he took viewers through the clinic, Conricus pointed out that CCTV cameras had been blacked out and at least one computer containing intelligence information was found.
“This totally confirms, without any doubt, that Hamas systematically uses hospitals in their military operations in violation of international law and what we have found, I think, is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Conricus.
Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports in local and international media on Thursday said that a deal was underway to free some of the estimated 240 hostages held by Hamas since its brutal surprise terror attack in Israel on Oct. 7.
According to the reports, which have not been confirmed by either side, Hamas has agreed to release 50 of the women and children it has been holding captive since its Oct. 7 terror attack in Israel in exchange for a five-day cease-fire and the release of Palestinian women and children being held in Israeli prisons. Israeli media reported Thursday morning, however, that Israel is requesting that 100 of the hostages, which also include foreign nationals, be freed and that the cease-fire be just three days.
At a news conference on Wednesday following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Joe Biden told reporters that the U.S. was deeply involved in the negotiations to free the hostages and that the government of Qatar was serving as a go-between for Hamas.
In Gaza, the IDF said that its fighter jets had struck the residence of the Qatari-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who runs the terror group’s political bureau from Doha and is said to be leading a life of luxury in the Qatari capital. The Israeli army said that Haniyeh’s house in Gaza often served as a meeting point for Hamas’ senior leaders and was used as a base to direct terror attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
In addition, the army said, its troops had taken control of the Al-Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City, destroying a center belonging to Hamas’ naval forces.
In his daily televised briefing on Wednesday night, the IDF’s top spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said that the army’s ground operations in northern Gaza were progressing as soldiers continued to sweep the area for more Hamas bases, weapons, terror tunnel openings and booby traps.
At Al-Shifa Hospital, the spokesman explained, the army was also continuing to operate inside the complex while “extracting intelligence information and preventing harm to the medical teams and civilians sheltering there.”
“Shifa hospital is a place which we know, based on intelligence, housed terror infrastructure,” Hagari said, adding that the army found discarded Hamas uniforms there and suspected that some of the fighters managed to escape along with the civilian population.
“The troops continue to search the hospital in a precise, intelligence-based manner,” added the spokesman. “We will continue to do so, in order to gather further information, to discover additional assets, and to expose the terror activities within the hospital.”
Hagari said that the army was in contact with medical staff in order to facilitate an evacuation of patients and others who are sheltering in the facility. A large number had moved out in the past few days, he said, adding that the army had also attempted to deliver medical equipment and baby food to the hospital – although he did not confirm whether it had been accepted.
Israel has said repeatedly that Al-Shifa and other hospitals in Gaza were being used by Hamas for terror purposes, including storing weapons there, which it says contravenes international law and makes them a permissible military target. Still, international condemnation of Israel’s military operation around the hospitals has continued to grow.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Wednesday that IDF tanks had entered Al-Shifa’s premises and taken control of several sections. It also said that out of 24 hospitals in northern Gaza, the only one still currently operating was Al Ahli.
“Eighteen hospitals have shut down and been evacuated since the start of hostilities, including three – An Nasr, Ar Rantisi and Al Quds – over the past three days,” OCHA reported. “Another five hospitals, including Shifa, are providing extremely limited services to patients who have already been admitted. These hospitals are not accessible, do not have electricity and supplies, and are not admitting new patients.”
As the fighting in northern Gaza continues, OCHA estimated that more than 1.5 million Palestinians are now internally displaced, including some 813,000 people who are staying in more than 150 shelters run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants (UNRWA). The agency said that overcrowding there is leading to the spread of disease.
In addition, OCHA said that the Hamas-run Ministry of Health has not updated its casualty figures for the past five days after the collapse of services and communications at the hospitals in northern Gaza. Based on figures published on Nov. 10, it said that the death toll had surpassed 11,000, of whom some 4,506 are said to be children and 3,027 women.
The army on Thursday updated its death toll, announcing that two additional soldiers had been killed in combat in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of soldiers killed since Israel launched its ground operation to 53. Some 368 soldiers have been killed since Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack inside Israel on Oct. 7.
In the north, the army said it was still in a high state of alert as the Iranian-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah continued to fire rockets and anti-tank missiles into Israel and the army continued to respond targeting the group’s military posts.
In Jerusalem on Thursday, six Israeli security personnel were wounded, one critically, in a shooting attack at a West Bank checkpoint south of Jerusalem. The three assailants were all killed at the scene, the Israel police said. The three, a police spokesman said, had arrived at the checkpoint with two M-16 rifles, two handguns, rounds of ammunition, and uniforms resembling IDF attire.