The Israeli military raided Gaza's largest hospital early Wednesday, conducting what it called a “precise and targeted” operation against Hamas as Israel seized broader control of northern Gaza, including capturing the territory's legislature building and its police headquarters.
The gains carried high symbolic value in the country’s quest to crush the militant group that rules Gaza.
The raid unfolded "in a specified area” of the Shifa Hospital, which has been the site of a standoff with Hamas. Israeli authorities claim the militants conceal military operations in the facility. But with hundreds of patients and medical personnel inside, the military had refrained from entering.
In recent weeks, Israeli defense forces have publicly warned that such use of the hospital jeopardized its protection under international law. On Tuesday, military officials conveyed again to Gaza authorities that all military activity in the hospital must cease within 12 hours.
"Unfortunately, it did not,” the military said.
Hamas has denied accusations that it uses the hospital for cover.
Israeli military officials gave no further details on the raid but said they were taking steps to avoid harm to civilians.
Meanwhile, Israeli defense officials said they have agreed to allow some fuel shipments into the Gaza Strip for humanitarian purposes. It was the first time Israel has allowed fuel into the besieged territory since Hamas' bloody cross-border invasion on Oct. 7.
Inside some of the newly captured buildings, soldiers held up the Israeli flag and military flags in celebration. In a nationally televised news conference, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had “lost control” of northern Gaza and that Israel made significant gains in Gaza City.
But asked about the time frame for the war, Gallant said: “We’re talking about long months, not a day or two."
One Israeli commander in Gaza, identified only as Lt. Col. Gilad, said in a video that his forces near Shifa Hospital had seized government buildings, schools and residential buildings where they found weapons and eliminated fighters.
The army said it captured the legislature, the Hamas police headquarters and a compound housing Hamas’ military intelligence headquarters. The buildings are powerful symbols, but their strategic value was unclear. Hamas fighters are believed to be in underground bunkers.
For days, the Israeli army has encircled the hospital. Hundreds of patients, staff and displaced people were trapped inside, with supplies dwindling and no electricity to run incubators and other lifesaving equipment. After days without refrigeration, morgue staff on Tuesday dug a mass grave in the yard for more than 120 bodies, officials said.
Elsewhere, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Tuesday it had evacuated patients, doctors and displaced families from another Gaza City hospital, Al-Quds.
Israel has vowed to end Hamas rule in Gaza after the militants' Oct. 7 attack into Israel in which they killed some 1,200 people and took roughly 240 hostages. The Israeli government has acknowledged it doesn’t know what it will do with the territory after Hamas’ defeat.
The Israeli onslaught — one of the most intense bombardments so far this century — has been disastrous for Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.
More than 11,200 people, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah. About 2,700 people have been reported missing. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.
Almost the entire population of Gaza has squeezed into the southern two-thirds of the tiny territory, where conditions have been deteriorating even as bombardment there continues. About 200,000 fled the north in recent days, the U.N. said Tuesday, though tens of thousands are believed to remain.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Tuesday that its fuel storage facility in Gaza was empty and that it would soon end relief operations, including bringing limited supplies of food and medicine in from Egypt for more than 600,000 people sheltering in schools and other facilities in the south.
"Without fuel, the humanitarian operation in Gaza is coming to an end. Many more people will suffer and will likely die,” said Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of UNRWA.
Israeli defense officials, who repeatedly rejected allowing fuel into Gaza, saying Hamas would divert it for military use, changed course early Wednesday. Israel will allow some 24,000 liters (6,340 gallons) of fuel into the Gaza Strip for humanitarian operations, officials said.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian affairs, said it would allow U.N. trucks to refill at the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border later Wednesday. It said the decision was in response to a request from the U.S.
Fighting has raged for days around the Shifa Hospital complex at the center of Gaza City that has now “turned into a cemetery,” its director said in a statement.
The Health Ministry said 40 patients, including three babies, have died since Shifa’s emergency generator ran out of fuel Saturday. Another 36 babies are at risk of dying because there is no power for incubators, according to the ministry.
The Israeli military said it started an effort to transfer incubators to Shifa. But they would be useless without electricity, said Christian Lindmeier, a World Health Organization spokesman.
The Health Ministry has proposed evacuating the hospital with the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross and transferring the patients to hospitals in Egypt, but has not received any response, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said.
While Israel says it is willing to allow staff and patients to evacuate, some Palestinians who have made it out say Israeli forces have fired at evacuees.
Israel says its claims of a Hamas command center in and beneath Shifa are based on intelligence, but it has not provided visual evidence to support them. Denying the claims, the Gaza Health Ministry says it has invited international organizations to investigate the facility.
The evacuation at the Al-Quds Hospital followed “more than 10 days of siege, during which medical and humanitarian supplies were prevented from reaching the hospital,” Palestinian Red Crescent officials said.
In a post on X, they blamed the Israeli army for bombarding the hospital and firing at those inside.
The White House’s national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said the U.S. has unspecified intelligence that Hamas and other Palestinian militants use Shifa and other hospitals and tunnels underneath them to support military operations and hold hostages.
The intelligence is based on multiple sources, and the U.S. independently collected the information, a U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Kirby said the U.S. doesn't support airstrikes on hospitals and does not want to see “a firefight in a hospital where innocent people" are trying to get care.
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