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Israel's military launched an overnight raid on Gaza's largest hospital

Displaced Palestinians fleeing from the area in the vicinity of Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital ride on a donkey-drawn cart as they arrive at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Monday.
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AFP via Getty Images
Displaced Palestinians fleeing from the area in the vicinity of Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital ride on a donkey-drawn cart as they arrive at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on Monday.

Updated March 18, 2024 at 1:32 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — The largest medical facility in Gaza, Al-Shifa Hospital, was the site of a raid by the Israeli military early Monday morning, with reports of gunshots, a fire breaking out on the complex and, according to the military, at least 20 people killed.

The Israeli military said it was "operating to thwart terrorist activity in the Shifa hospital," and carrying out "precise operational activity" in order to track senior Hamas terrorists allegedly inside the building, where displaced civilians have taken shelter.

"During the activity, terrorists opened fire at the troops from within the hospital. The troops responded with live fire and hits were identified. Our troops are continuing to operate in the area of the hospital," the Israeli military said in a statement.

The Israeli military said it killed "20 terrorists" in the operation, including Fa'aq Mabhouh, which it identified as Hamas' head of internal security. However, the Government Media Office in Gaza said Mabhouh was in charge of the coordination between tribes and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to bring humanitarian aid into northern Gaza.

Mabhouh was "carrying out purely humanitarian civilian work, and he should have protection and freedom from harm under international law," the office said.

The Israel Defense Forces also reported one 23-year-old IDF soldier killed in the raid.

The IDF said its troops found "Terror funds intended for distribution to Hamas terrorist operatives, in addition to numerous weapons" inside Al-Shifa.

The Gaza Ministry of Health rejected the Israeli military's claims, however, saying, "What the occupation forces are doing against Al-Shifa Medical Complex is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law."

Dozens of people were also detained by the Israeli military during Monday's raid — including members of the media.

Al Jazeera said that while the raid was being carried out, one of the outlet's correspondents, Ismail al-Ghoul, was reporting on the scene when Israeli authorities beat and arrested him. Al-Ghoul's broadcast vehicle, cameras and equipment were all destroyed. He has since been taken to an unknown location, Al Jazeera said.

"The Network emphasises [sic] that this targeting serves as an intimidation tactic against journalists to deter them from reporting the horrific crimes committed by the occupation forces against innocent civilians in Gaza," Al Jazeera said in its statement.

The media outlet called the incident part of an ongoing attack on Al Jazeera staff by Israeli forces, which includes "the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, Samer Abu Daqqa, and Hamza Al-Dahdouh, the bombing of its office in Gaza, the deliberate targeting of a number of its journalists and their family members, and the arrest and intimidation of its crews," the statement read.

"Al Jazeera condemns the ongoing crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces against journalists and media professionals in Gaza and renews its call for an immediate halt to these horrific attacks."

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the arrest.

This was the 2nd major raid on the hospital complex

Al-Shifa was the territory's main medical facility prior to the war, but has seen its operations drastically disrupted due to months of conflict. The surrounding area of Al-Shifa has been the site of fighting since the Israeli military launched its offensive in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel. Twelve hundred people were killed in the attack, according to Israel. The Israeli assault on Gaza has killed more than 31,700 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

The Al-Shifa complex was raided by Israeli forces in November 2023, when troops reported finding Hamas weapons then, too. Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of operating in tunnels under this, and other, hospitals in Gaza, and using doctors and patients as human shields.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, appeared to criticize the raid on Al-Shifa in a post on social media Monday and reiterated calls for a cease-fire.

"Hospitals should never be battlegrounds. We are terribly worried about the situation at Al-Shifa Hospital in northern #Gaza, which is endangering health workers, patients and civilians," he wrote. "The hospital has only recently restored minimal health services. Any hostilities or militarization of the facility jeopardize health services, access for ambulances, and delivery of life-saving supplies. Hospitals must be protected."

Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a video posted on social media early Mondaythat forces will conduct the operation with "caution and care" and "while ensuring the hospital continues its important functions."

But Gaza's Ministry of Health said that due to the raid, a fire broke out at the gate of the Al-Shifa medical complex, trapping and suffocating displaced women and children.

"Communications were cut off, and the displaced people were trapped inside the specialized surgery building and in the emergency reception in Building 8," according to the ministry.

Alaa Al-Samuni, a doctor inside Al-Shifa, said Israeli forces requested people inside the complex be taken out into the street and that only doctors and the wounded in intensive care would be allowed to remain inside. Al-Samuni said through Ministry of Health channels that staff and doctors were trapped in the damaged emergency department with patients.

"We hold the Israeli occupation responsible for the lives of medical staff, patients and displaced people inside Al-Shifa Medical Complex," the Ministry of Health continued in a statement.

Flyers signed by the Israeli military urging civilians to evacuate were dropped on top of Al-Shifa and the surrounding neighborhood. Locals in Gaza inside the medical complex shared the flyers with the media.

"To all those present and displaced in the Al-Rimal neighborhood and the displaced in Al-Shifa Hospital and its surroundings, you are present in a dangerous combat zone," the translated flyer read. "The Israeli Defense Forces is working forcefully in the area of ​​your residence and presence to destroy the terrorist structure. In order to preserve your safety, the Israeli Defense Forces urges you to evacuate immediately westward, through Al-Rashid Street, and then head south to the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi."

In Hagari's video statement, he said the Israeli military would provide a humanitarian effort to provide food, water and other supplies to civilians and hospital patients on the ground.

Jaclyn Diaz reported from Tel Aviv. Anas Baba contributed reporting in Rafah.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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