Signs of Hamas at Al Shifa hospital but Israel’s promised command centre remains elusive

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Jerusalem: Three weeks ago, the Israeli military unveiled a detailed 3D model of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital – showing a series of underground installations that it said was part of an elaborate Hamas command and control centre.

Days after taking control of the hospital, the territory’s largest health-care centre, the military has yet to unveil this purported centre.

An Israeli military spokesman holds up a bulletproof vest with a Hamas insignia found along with weapons the IDF says were found in a medical closet at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.Credit: IDF via AP

But it has released videos of weapons allegedly seized inside the hospital, a tunnel running through the complex and videos appearing to show Hamas militants dragging hostages through the hospital’s hallways. Israel says there will be much more to come.

What Israel finds – or fails to find – could play a large part in its efforts to rally international support for its war against Hamas, launched on October 7 in response to a bloody cross-border attack by the Islamic militant group.

Here is a closer look at Israel’s raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital.

A cache of weapons the IDF says were found in a closet at the MRI centre at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. Credit: IDF via AP

Why does it matter?

Gaza’s hospitals have played a central role in the duelling narratives surrounding the war.

Hospitals enjoy special protected status under the international laws of war. But they can lose that status if they are used for military purposes.

Israel has long claimed that Hamas uses hospitals, schools, mosques and residential neighbourhoods as human shields.

In particular, it says Hamas has hidden command centres and bunkers underneath the sprawling grounds of Al-Shifa. Hamas denies the allegations.

Israel says other hospitals are similarly used for military purposes. It has ordered the evacuations of a number of Gaza hospitals, including Al-Shifa, as it presses ahead with its ground operation against Hamas.

The UN and other international organisations say these evacuations have endangered patients and overwhelmed the remaining hospitals in the besieged territory.

With Israel already facing mounting international criticism of its offensive, a failure to uncover a significant Hamas presence could step up the pressure to halt the operation.

Israel has vowed to press ahead until it destroys Hamas.

What has Israel found?

The Israeli military has released videos showing AK47s, ammunition and other military equipment it said was found in the hospital’s MRI unit. It also said it discovered a Toyota pickup truck filled with weapons in a hospital garage. The vehicle appears to be the same type of truck used by Hamas militants during the October 7 incursion.

On Sunday, it released a video of a 55-metre tunnel in a hospital courtyard. The underground structure was heavily fortified and led to a blast-proof door with an opening that Israel says was meant to be used by Hamas snipers.

It also released security-camera images of Hamas militants escorting what Israel said were two hostages – one from Thailand, the other from Nepal – who were seized in the October 7 cross-border attack.

One video showed a group of men forcefully dragging their hostage through the hospital’s main entrance and down a hallway. The other showed a group of men, including at least one gunman, pushing a motionless man on a stretcher in a hallway. Hospital workers could be seen in both videos looking on.

The videos had time stamps from the morning of October 7, matching the time of the attack. But the faces of the two purported hostages were blurred, making it difficult to verify the authenticity of the videos.

The army also released photos of what it said were two military jeeps stolen from the Israeli military. The photos showed the jeeps parked in the hospital complex on the morning of the attack.

“By now the truth is clear: Hamas wages war from hospitals, wages terror from hospitals,” said the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. “Everyone who cares about the future of humanity must condemn Hamas.”

Hamas played down the images, saying it had been offering the men in its custody medical treatment.

“We put our fighters at risk to guarantee the injured prisoners the best treatment possible in the Gaza Strip’s hospitals,” the militant group said in a statement.

Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas leader based in Beirut, acknowledged that Israel could find a tunnel “here or there”.

“We don’t deny there are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels in and around Gaza,” he told a news conference. But he said Hamas does not use hospitals for militant activities.

What hasn’t Israel found?

Israel has not said where the Al-Shifa tunnel leads to or given specifics on what it was used for.

It also has not yet provided anything close to the images of underground bunkers and conference rooms it showed in that October 27 illustration.

Hamdan, the Hamas leader, mocked the Israeli discoveries so far. “The Israelis said there was a command and control centre, which means that the matter is greater than just a tunnel,” he said.

Israeli military officials say those initial illustrations were “conceptual” and not meant to be taken literally. They have also promised many more discoveries as troops continue the painstaking task of scouring a complex spread out over more than 10 acres (40,000 square meters).

“It’s going to take time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, another military spokesman.

More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

  • Hamas had bigger plans on October 7: Intelligence about Hamas’ motivations reveals an intention to strike a blow of historic proportions and provoke an overwhelming Israeli response.
  • Escape from chaos: An Australian father faced a heartbreaking dilemma – whether to flee Gaza to his children, or stay with his wife.
  • Open letters: Mass resignations, boardroom turmoil and angry donors are some of the ways the Israel-Hamas war is filtering down into Australia’s high-powered arts world.
  • Gaza’s youth: One of the cruellest ironies of war is that they are never started by children, yet it is children who suffer the most.

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