The Israeli army has said its troops have found a tunnel shaft used by Hamas at Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said efforts to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties were “not successful” because Hamas stopped people moving to safer places.
Israel says Hamas has stored weapons and ammunition and is holding hostages in a network of tunnels under hospitals like Al Shifa, using patients and the thousands of displaced people taking shelter there as human shields. Hamas denies this.
Mr Netanyahu was asked by US television’s CBS News whether Israel’s killing of thousands of people in Gaza in its almost six week war against Hamas would fuel hatred among a new generation.
Israel’s attempts to minimise civilian casualties were “not successful”, Mr Netanyahu said, accusing Hamas of preventing civilians from moving to safer locations.
“Any civilian death is a tragedy. And we shouldn’t have any because we’re doing everything we can to get the civilians out of harm’s way, while Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“So we send leaflets, call them on their cell phones, and we say: ‘leave’. And many have left,” he said.
The army released a video it said showed a tunnel entrance in an outdoor area of Al Shifa, Gaza’s biggest hospital.
The video, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed a deep hole in the ground, littered with and surrounded by concrete and wood rubble and sand. It appeared the area had been excavated; a bulldozer appeared in the background.
The army said its troops also found a vehicle in the hospital containing a large number of weapons.
Hamas said in a statement late yesterday that claims by the Pentagon and US State Department that the group uses Al Shifa for military purposes “is a repetition of a blatantly false narrative, demonstrated by the weak and ridiculous performances of the occupation army spokesman.”
The United States is confident in an assessment from its own intelligence agencies on Hamas activities in Al Shifa hospital and will neither share nor elaborate on it, White House spokesperson John Kirby said.
Israeli officials had said Hamas held some of the 240 hostages taken by gunmen on 7 October in the hospital complex.
The Israeli military said this morning that soldiers had retrieved the body of a female soldier, who had been held captive, in a building near Al Shifa. The military had confirmed her death on Tuesday after Hamas issued a video of her alive followed by images of what it said was her body after she was killed in an Israeli strike.
Yesterday, troops recovered the body of another woman hostage, also in a building near Al Shifa.
Hamas’s Al-Quds Brigades in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank said in a statement they had engaged Israeli forces for several hours, unleashing a “torrent of fire” and laying ambushes with explosives.
Israel’s military said that aircraft struck militants in Jenin who had opened fire on Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops and had used explosives. It said that at least five of the militants were killed.
Last week, Israeli forces raided Jenin and fought an hours-long battle with gunmen in which 14 people were killed, one of the heaviest clashes in the occupied West Bank in months.
At least 178 people have been killed in the West Bank since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel.
The mounting death toll in the West Bank has underscored fears that the territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war could spiral out of control amid the conflict in Gaza.
The Israeli military’s chief of staff said Israel was close to destroying Hamas’ military system in northern Gaza and there were signs the army was taking its campaign to other parts of the enclave of 2.3 million people.
Israel distributed pamphlets telling civilians to leave four towns in southern Gaza, areas Gazans had been previously told would be safe.
Palestinian civilians have borne the brunt of Israel’s weeks-long military campaign in retaliation for the attack by Hamas that Israel says killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.
Gaza health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say at least 11,500 people have been confirmed killed in an Israeli bombardment and ground invasion – more than 4,700 of them children.
Human Rights Watch said hospitals have special protections under international humanitarian law.
“Hospitals only lose those protections if it can be shown that harmful acts have been carried out from the premises,” the watchdog’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, on his first visit to Israel since the Hamas attack, called on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza.
“I understand your rage but let me ask you not to be consumed by rage,” Mr Borrell said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Hamas was to blame not only for the 7 October attack but also for the current plight of Palestinians in Gaza.
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