LONDON: The Israel Defense Forces has claimed that weapons were found at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City after its troops began a ground operation at the site on Wednesday.
The Times of Israel reported that an IDF spokesperson told Agence France-Presse that equipment was found after room-to-room sweeps of the facility, which Israel claims is used as a base by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, concealing subterranean military infrastructure and using doctors and patients as human shields.
The IDF also published footage and still images claiming to show weapons found inside Gaza’s largest medical facility.
The video included assault rifles, grenades and Hamas uniforms, which the IDF said were found in an MRI unit.
“In the hospital, we found weapons, intelligence materials, and military technology and equipment,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters. “We also found an operational headquarters with comms equipment … belonging to Hamas,” he added.
“These findings unequivocally prove that the hospital was used for terror, in complete violation of international law.”
In the video, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, another IDF spokesman, said the finds were “just the tip of the iceberg,” adding: “These weapons have absolutely no business being inside a hospital.”
As yet, the IDF has not released evidence of tunnels, bases or any other weapons caches, but the US government on Tuesday backed Israel’s claim that Al-Shifa is used by Hamas and other groups “to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”
On Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Al-Shifa is “an active legitimate hospital … We want their patients to be as protected as possible.”
But he added: “What Hamas is doing … It is a violation of the law of war to headquarter yourself in a hospital.”
The IDF operation drew condemnation from parts of the international community, including the UN, which said at least 2,300 patients, staff and other displaced Palestinians were inside the hospital as Israeli forces reached it.
Tens of thousands previously being treated or seeking shelter were forced to flee as the IDF approached, the UN added.
Both the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross have voiced their concern for patients and staff still inside the hospital, while the raid was also condemned by the Jordanian government and the Palestinian Authority.
Neither Hamas nor the IDF reported that any fighting had broken out inside Al-Shifa, though the IDF said it had killed five Hamas militants as it approached the facility.
Hospitals, though protected under international law, can lose their protected status if combatants use them for military purposes as long as civilians inside are given sufficient time to flee and any attack is found to be proportionate to the military objective.
The Times of Israel also reported that the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry questioned the footage released by Israel, saying the IDF “did not find any equipment or weapons in the hospital.”
On Wednesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met a US delegation headed by senior diplomats Brett McGurk and Barbara Leaf.
The Times of Israel reported that in the meeting, Netanyahu said the IDF operation was to “free” the hospital “from the control of the Hamas terror group.” The issue of freeing Israeli and foreign hostages held by Hamas in Gaza was also discussed.