The White House said Tuesday that Hamas is storing weapons and operating a command node from the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, revealing publicly what US intelligence has shown is underneath the medical facility.
“Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them, to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters traveling with President Joe Biden.
He added, “Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PIJ, members operate a command-and-control node from al-Shifa in Gaza City. They have stored weapons there and they are prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
Kirby presented no evidence to back up his statement. Israel has claimed for years that Gaza militants have been building key tunnel infrastructure under the hospital – allegations that doctors in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have always vehemently denied.
Later Tuesday, the Israel Defense Forces said the Israeli military was “carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital.” In a statement, the IDF accused Hamas of “continued military use of the Shifa hospital,” which, it said, “jeopardised the hospital’s protected status under international law.”
A doctor who was present at the hospital told CNN they were given a 30-minute warning before the Israeli operation at the complex began. “We were asked to stay clear of the windows and the balconies. We can hear the armored vehicles, they are very close to the entrance of the complex,” Dr. Khaled Abu Samra said.
A US official with knowledge of American intelligence told CNN on Monday that Hamas has a command node under the Al-Shifa hospital, uses fuel intended for it and its fighters regularly cluster in and around Gaza’s largest hospital. Hamas and hospital officials have denied the accusation that the hospital is being used as a command center.