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Feb 16, 2024, 6:12pm EST
Middle East
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Semafor Signals

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Israel searches Gaza’s largest functioning hospital for hostage remains after raid leaves five patients dead

Insights from The Guardian, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post

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Palestinian patients rest as they arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis due to the Israeli ground operation on Feb. 15, 2024.
REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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The News

Israeli forces said Thursday that they had raided Nasser Hospital — the largest functioning hospital remaining in Gaza — arresting more than 20 people based on “intelligence indicating terrorist activity by Hamas in the hospital.” Israel said it was also looking for hostage remains in the hospital, but hasn’t yet uncovered any.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas denied having any presence in the hospital, and Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said at least five patients died after Israel cut electricity during the raid, cutting off oxygen flows and other critical medical functions.

Gaza’s health authority said Israel forced out dozens of staff, patients, and others who were sheltering in the hospital, and Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian NGO, said Israel shelled the hospital despite telling medical staff and patients that they did not need to evacuate. An Israeli military spokesperson said the operation was conducted to allow the hospital to continue treating patients, adding that there was no obligation for anyone to evacuate.

But one man who had been sheltering in the hospital told Reuters that some people who attempted to leave on Wednesday were shot at. “This morning they said there was a safe passage, so we left, but it wasn’t safe,” he said. “They approached us with a bulldozer and a tank, they insulted us and left us for four hours under the sun.”

The U.N. Human Rights Office said the raid on Nasser Hospital appears to be “part of a pattern of attacks by Israeli forces striking essential life-saving civilian infrastructure in Gaza, especially hospitals.”

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Attacking hospitals could be a war crime

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Sources:  
Reuters, The Guardian

Israel and Hamas have each accused the other of weaponizing civilian hospitals, which are protected under international humanitarian law. Israel has raided several since the war began, claiming that the militant group uses them as headquarters, in an abuse of their protection under international law. Hamas has insisted that they were medical centers and has accused the Israeli military of using the allegation as an excuse to target Gaza’s vulnerable population.

“It is forbidden to turn recognized civilian hospitals into a conflict zone,” Mathilde Philip-Gay, an expert on international humanitarian law, told The Guardian in November after Israel’s troops stormed Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital complex. Equally, using “civilian populations, the sick or the injured as human shields, it is a war crime, as is fighting from inside a hospital,” Philip-Gay added.

Israel’s claims of Hamas bases in hospitals remain inconclusive

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Sources:  
The Associated Press, CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times

Israel justified raiding Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, by claiming that there was a sprawling Hamas command center under it, but several media outlets have since suggested that the IDF’s proof is inconclusive or “elusive” at best, based on footage and photos. The Associated Press reported last November that “there was no conclusive proof” of an elaborate Hamas headquarters below Al-Shifa, CNN’s independent analysis of an IDF video concluded that it did not “establish without a doubt that there is a command center under Al-Shifa,” and a Washington Post investigation in December also reported that the Israeli government’s evidence fell short of proving it was used as a Hamas command post.

However, declassified U.S. intelligence in January showed that Washington believes that Hamas and another Palestinian group used Al-Shifa “to command forces and hold some hostages,” The New York Times reported, while an investigation by the paper this month said evidence suggested Hamas “used the hospital for cover, stored weapons inside it and maintained a hardened tunnel beneath the complex.”

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