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Middle East Crisis: Israel’s Military Raids Gaza Hospital, Saying Hamas Regrouped There

The Israeli military said on Monday that it was conducting a “high-precision” operation at Al-Shifa Hospital, claiming that senior Hamas officials had regrouped at the medical facility, which is Gaza’s largest and has been a flashpoint of the war.

In a video address posted to social media at about 3:30 a.m. local time on Monday, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said the military was in the process of conducting a raid in “limited areas” of the hospital complex, which is in northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said on its Telegram account that during the operation, Hamas fighters shot at its soldiers from within the complex and soldiers returned fire. The Health Ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, said Israeli forces had fired missiles at the complex and shot into surgery rooms. Neither the ministry’s claims nor the Israeli military’s could be independently verified.

The hospital and the surrounding area house about 30,000 patients, medical workers and displaced civilians, and a number of people were killed and wounded, the health ministry said. It added that a fire had broken out at the gate of the complex, which caused some people to suffocate and made it difficult to reach those who were injured.

By midday the raid was continuing, and 15 Israeli tanks and several bulldozers were inside the hospital grounds, said Alaa Abu al-Kaas, who was staying at the hospital to accompany her father who was being treated there.

“The fear and terror are really eating us alive,” she said in a phone call from a corridor of one of the hospital’s buildings where she was hiding. Her voice was barely audible amid loud booms and explosions.

Ms. al-Kaas, 19, said that around 2 a.m. she heard shots and the sound of tanks before Israeli soldiers, using loudspeakers, ordered people in the complex to stay inside and close the windows. She said Israeli forces told people that they would be moved to the Al-Mawasi area in southern Gaza, although it was not immediately clear when or how they would be moved. Israel has sought to create a humanitarian “safe zone” in Al-Mawasi, although civilians have found little shelter there.

“We are just sitting here anxiously waiting for them to evacuate us out of here,” she said.

Ms. al-Kaas said that she had seen Israeli soldiers holding several people, their hands bound and clothes partially stripped off, in the courtyard of the hospital complex. She added that bodies of people who had apparently been shot were lying in the courtyard.

Israel has said that the hospital complex doubled as a secret Hamas military command center, calling it one of many examples of civilian facilities that Hamas uses to shield its activities.

Hamas has denied the accusations, and Israel came under criticism from health and humanitarian organizations after storming the hospital in November. Evidence examined by The New York Times suggests Hamas did use the hospital for cover and maintained a hardened tunnel beneath it that was supplied with water, power and air-conditioning. But the Israeli military has struggled to prove that Hamas maintained a command-and-control center under the facility.

“We know that senior Hamas terrorists have regrouped inside Al-Shifa Hospital and are using it to command attacks against Israel,” Mr. Hagari said. He added that there would be “no obligation” for staff and patients to evacuate, but said a passage would be provided for civilians to leave the hospital.

The Gaza Health Ministry said the operation began at about 2 a.m. “Everyone who tries to move is targeted by sniper bullets and quadcopters,” it said.

After Israel’s high-profile raid of Al-Shifa, it took reporters to see a shaft at the complex leading to a tunnel network. While Israel has publicly revealed the existence of only one tunnel entrance on the hospital grounds, U.S. spy agencies say that their own intelligence indicates that Hamas and another Palestinian group used Al-Shifa to command forces and hold some hostages.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.

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