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Israeli troops enter Gaza's largest hospital and report finding Hamas weapons there

Israeli troops operate on the grounds of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City in this photo released by the Israeli military. The Israelis say they found weapons belonging to Hamas, but did not provide details. Hamas denied the claim that it has been operating in or underneath the hospital.
Israel Defense Forces
/
AP
Israeli troops operate on the grounds of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City in this photo released by the Israeli military. The Israelis say they found weapons belonging to Hamas, but did not provide details. Hamas denied the claim that it has been operating in or underneath the hospital.

Updated November 15, 2023 at 4:55 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli military said troops found weapons and other equipment belonging to the militant group Hamas after entering Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, a major complex that is the territory's largest medical center.

Israeli forces initially clashed with Hamas fighters on the street outside Al-Shifa Hospital, killing four militants, according to a senior Israeli defense official who briefed the media on condition of anonymity.

The official said troops then entered the complex before dawn Wednesday, local time, on what Israel has called a "precise and targeted operation."

Israeli soldiers searched the hospital and found weapons, "technological assets" and an "operational command center," Israel's military said in a statement Wednesday.

"What we have found, I think, is only the tip of the iceberg," said military spokesperson Jonathan Conricus in a video released by the Israel Defense Forces late Wednesday. The military also released photos and a video of what it described as guns, ammunition and body armor found inside the hospital.

The senior Israeli official added that Israel had no reports of gunfire inside the crowded hospital, where many patients are being treated and Palestinians seeking shelter from airstrikes have stayed in hallways and on the floor.

Hamas denounced the actions by the Israeli military early Wednesday, and it denied the claims by the Israeli military and U.S. officials that militants were operating in or underneath the hospital. The Gaza Ministry of Health reported that Israel's operation had damaged surgery facilities and patient care rooms, and that two hospital technicians were arrested by Israeli forces.

The Israeli military action comes during the third week of a ground invasion in northern Gaza. Over the past several days, Israeli forces have encircled Al-Shifa and other medical buildings in northern Gaza, demanding that they be evacuated.

Conditions at the hospitals continue to deteriorate, officials in Gaza say.

Hundreds of patients and staff were still inside Al-Shifa when Israeli troops entered. On Tuesday, Al-Shifa officials reported that the hospital had buried 170 people in a mass grave.

Israel's military said in a statement that "troops delivered humanitarian aid" to Al-Shifa.

An Israeli flag stands on the top of a destroyed building in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on Wednesday.
Leo Correa / AP
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AP
An Israeli flag stands atop a destroyed building in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, officials from the White House and Pentagon said U.S. intelligence agencies "have information" that militant groups, including Hamas, use hospitals in Gaza "as a way to conceal and support" military operations and hostages. U.S. officials have not provided evidence to back up the claim.

Human rights groups say militant activity inside hospitals does not give Israel free rein to endanger civilians seeking medical treatment or shelter there. The U.S. has urged Israel to protect civilian life as it conducts military operations in and around hospitals, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said Tuesday.

"We believe that the protection of innocent civilians is, of course, not only a priority, but it must be upheld," Singh told reporters. "We do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where there are innocent civilians."

U.N. Security Council adopts first resolution on Gaza since Oct. 7

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Gaza for the first time since Oct. 7, the day Hamas fighters crossed Gaza's borders and killed 1,200 people in Israeli towns and military bases and Israel began its military campaign in response.

The resolution urged all sides to protect civilian life, particularly children, and called on Hamas and other groups to free all hostages. About 240 hostages are thought to be held by Hamas in Gaza.

The resolution stopped short of calling for a complete cease-fire, instead expressing a need for "urgent and extended humanitarian pauses" in order to allow "full, rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access" to the Gaza Strip.

The United States, which had proposed and vetoed other failed resolutions on Gaza over the past several weeks, abstained from Wednesday's vote. "Ultimately, the United States could not vote yes on a text that did not condemn Hamas or reaffirm the right of all member states to protect their citizens from terrorist attacks," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

A small amount of fuel is allowed into Gaza

More than 6,000 gallons of fuel were allowed into Gaza Wednesday after weeks of restrictions from Israelis, according to Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations relief agency for Palestine refugees, or UNRWA.

This comes after weeks of UNRWA and other aid groups begging for fuel to be let in and only after several hospitals, including Al-Shifa, reported they lost power after running out of fuel to run their generators, leading to the death of some patients.

But in a statement, Lazzarini said Israel has "restricted the use of this fuel only to transport the little aid coming via Egypt. This fuel cannot be used for the overall humanitarian response, including for medical and water facilities or the work of UNRWA."

"It is appalling that fuel continues to be used as a weapon of war," the statement continued. "For the past five weeks, UNRWA has been pleading to get fuel in support of the humanitarian operation in Gaza. This seriously paralyses our work and the delivery of assistance to the Palestinian communities in Gaza."

"By the end of today, around 70 per cent of people in Gaza will not have clean water. Key services including water desalination plants, sewage treatments and hospitals have ceased to operate," Lazzarini said.

UNRWA estimates that 42,000 gallons of fuel are needed each day for basic humanitarian operations.

The lack of fuel has affected much of daily life in Gaza as electricity blackouts continue. Fuel is needed to pump water from wells, to operate desalination plants, to fuel generators at hospitals and bakeries. At one store in Rafah, the few groceries on display — a hodgepodge of canned goods, oil, snacks and condiments — are lit by candlelight due to electricity cuts.

Daily needs have become astronomically expensive, Palestinians in Gaza say. One resident of Rafah, who gave his name as Abu Kareem, said a sack of salt had risen in price from one shekel to 15, or from about 25 cents to $4 in U.S. dollars.

"I was told today because there is no fuel, there is no water," he said. "Why should I pay 150 shekels [about $40 USD] for salty, dirty water?"

On Wednesday, Gaza's death toll reached 11,500, according to the Ministry of Health, although telecommunications disruptions have hindered officials' ability to tally the deaths, they said.

An estimated 1.5 million people in Gaza, more than 70% of the territory's population, are displaced, the United Nations says, as thousands continue to evacuate from northern Gaza to the south.

"Our dreams were cut off, our ambitions were cut off, our savings were destroyed, our children died, and our plantations are gone," said Eyad Baroud, a 47-year-old strawberry farmer who said his fields and crops have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes. "My simple dream now is to survive."

Jaclyn Diaz and Greg Myre reported from Tel Aviv. Becky Sullivan reported from Washington, D.C. Anas Baba contributed reporting in Rafah. Michele Kelemen contributed reporting in Washington, D.C. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.