The Israeli military’s focus on hospitals in Gaza is growing more intense, with a spokesperson inviting news media to visit a medical center for children on Monday, where he alleged parts of the basement had been a Hamas “command and control center” and may have been used to hold hostages.
A CNN team embedded with the Israel Defense Forces and was shown guns and explosives in one room located beneath Al-Rantisi children’s hospital on Monday, which IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari termed as an “armory.”
He also pointed to a chair with a rope next to it and a piece of women’s clothing, which he said would be tested for DNA, and a makeshift toilet.
Hamas has repeatedly denied that its fighters hide under hospitals, as have Gazan health officials and hospital directors.
Speaking by phone to CNN on Tuesday, Mohammed Zarqout, who has responsibility for all of Gaza’s hospitals, said the basement at Al-Rantisi had been used as a shelter for women and children – not to store Hamas weaponry and hold hostages – as well as being the location of the pharmacy and some of the hospital’s administrative offices before rainwater made it “impossible” to use.
Zarqout also told CNN that medical staff had been forced to leave the hospital by Israeli soldiers and had been unable to take all the patients with them when they left.
In a statement on Sunday, the IDF said it was enabling passage by foot and ambulance to evacuate from three hospitals: Al-Shifa, Al-Rantisi and Nasser hospitals.
But concerns are mounting that hospitals are now being targeted for military action, as searing images and accounts from civilians inside continue to emerge and as doctors warn they cannot evacuate their most vulnerable patients.
Israeli troops had been conducting operations inside Al-Rantisi only a few hours before CNN’s visit, according to Hagari. He added that a forensic team would soon test the material left behind in the basement rooms to confirm any potential connection to the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas during its rampage in Israel on October 7.
The IDF is also working to determine if there is a connection between an apparent nearby tunnel entrance and the rooms under the hospital.
Read more about Israel's claim that Hamas operated under a children's hospital in Gaza.