Hours after Israeli troops launched a night-time raid on Gaza’s biggest hospital, soldiers interrogated patients in the compound’s courtyard while other Palestinians stood stripped to their underwear.
“All men 16 years and above, raise your hands,” a soldier shouted in accented Arabic through a loudspeaker at those sheltering inside Al-Shifa hospital, which has been at the centre of fierce urban combat for days.
“Exit the building towards the courtyard and surrender,” the soldier ordered, according to a journalist who visited the embattled hospital several days ago for interviews and was trapped inside because of the fighting outside.
About 1000 male Palestinians, their hands above their heads, were soon led into the vast hospital courtyard, some of them stripped naked by Israeli soldiers checking them for weapons or explosives, the journalist told AFP.
Hours later, some 200 remained in their underwear, forced to stand beside tanks used in the military incursion into the medical facility.
The army labelled the raid a “precise and targeted” operation against Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that launched the deadly October 7 attacks on southern Israel.
Since their raid on the facility, the military is yet to produce any evidence to back their claim of Hamas running a command centre beneath the hospital.
Israel withdrew its troops and vehicles on Wednesday evening, the journalist told AFP, repositioning them outside the hospital walls.
“Before entering the hospital, our forces encountered explosive devices and terrorist squads, and fighting commenced in which terrorists were killed,” the military said of the battle preceding the raid.
Witnesses have described conditions inside the hospital as horrific, with medical procedures performed without anaesthetic, families with scant food or water living in corridors, and the stench of decomposing corpses filling the air.
As Israeli forces raced through the corridors, hundreds of young men emerged from different wards, including the maternity section, which was hit in a strike a few days ago, the journalist reported.
Soldiers fired warning shots as they moved from room to room looking for Hamas militants, he said, adding the troops were also searching women and children, some of whom were in tears.
Tanks in hospital complex
Hamas in its October 7 attack, the worst in Israel’s history, killed about 1200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages back into Gaza, according to Israeli officials.
In Gaza, more than 11,300 people, also mostly civilians, have been killed in an intense Israeli bombing campaign and ground invasion since, health officials in the Hamas-run territory have said.
In the hospital incursion, the journalist said Israeli troops entered the main emergency department and other wards.
The Israeli army, in a statement early Wednesday, said they were targeting Hamas “in a specified area” of the facility.
Soldiers were still questioning wounded people and their companions on Wednesday afternoon, as they moved between hospital departments, the journalist at Al-Shifa said.
The army said it had delivered incubators, baby food and medical supplies to the hospital, which AFP was not able to verify.
The journalist said soldiers were handing out drinking water to some of the displaced people who had taken shelter at the hospital during weeks of warfare.
“Our medical teams and Arabic speaking soldiers are on the ground to ensure that these supplies reach those in need,” the army said.
Gaza’s Hamas government accused the Israeli army of committing a “war crime and crime against humanity”.
Over the past few days Israel has encircled Al-Shifa in north Gaza, charging that tunnels under the facility were being used as hideouts by Hamas commanders.
The White House said that US intelligence sources corroborated Israel’s claim that Hamas and another militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, had buried an operational “command and control node” under Al-Shifa.
Hamas has denied those charges and stressed the suffering inside the besieged facility that, like other hospitals, has been without electricity or fuel for generators amid the Israeli siege of the Palestinian territory.
The United Nations said earlier that at least 2,300 people — patients, staff and displaced civilians — were inside and may be unable to escape because of the fierce fighting.
Citing the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, UN humanitarian agency OCHA said 40 patients had died in Al-Shifa on Tuesday.
The hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya said that 179 bodies had been buried in a mass grave inside the complex.