Israel raids main Gaza hospital as Rafah concerns grow

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 5:16 AM

By James Mackenzie and Nidal al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM/DOHA (Reuters) – Israeli forces raided the biggest functioning hospital in Gaza, they said on Thursday, as video posted online showed chaos, shouting and the sound of shooting in darkened corridors that were filled with dust and smoke.

Israel’s military described its raid on Nasser Hospital as “precise and limited” and said it was based on credible information that Hamas was hiding in the facility, had kept hostages there and that bodies of hostages may still be there.

A spokesperson for Hamas denied that, calling it “lies”.

Health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave said Israel had forced out displaced people and families of medical staff sheltering in Nasser Hospital.

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas sent fighters into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has since devastated tiny, crowded Gaza, killing more than 28,500 people, also mostly civilian, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run strip and forcing nearly all its inhabitants from their homes.

The U.N. humanitarian office had said on Wednesday that Nasser Hospital was besieged by Israeli forces with allegations of sniper fire at the facility, endangering the lives of medics, patients and thousands of displaced people.

The medical charity Medicins San Frontieres said people ordered by Israel to evacuate the hospital faced an impossible choice to stay “and become a potential target” or leave “into an apocalyptic landscape” of bombings.

Fighting at the hospital comes as Israel faces growing international pressure to show restraint in its Gaza war, after vowing to press its offensive into Rafah, the last relatively safe place for civilians in the enclave.

Attacks on medical facilities in Gaza have caused particular concern throughout the conflict, including Israeli raids on hospitals in other cities, shelling in the vicinity of hospitals and the targeting of ambulances.

As massive bombardment destroyed swathes of residential districts and forced most people from their homes, hospitals quickly became the focus of displaced camps as people sought shelter around buildings they thought more likely to be safe.

Israel accuses Hamas of regularly using hospitals, ambulances and other medical facilities for military purposes, and has shown footage its troops have taken of tunnels containing weapons below some hospitals.

The Israeli military later said it had apprehended a number of suspects at the hospital and that its operations there were continuing.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel’s statement accusing the group of hiding fighters or keeping hostages at the hospital was “lies”. He added that “all previous Israeli allegations against hospitals had proven to be false”.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Doha and Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Sharon Singleton)