November 17, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

By Kathleen Magramo, Sophie Tanno, Alisha Ebrahimji, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, November 18, 2023
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2:27 a.m. ET, November 17, 2023

UN human rights chief says access to Gaza is needed to investigate claims on Al-Shifa Hospital

From CNN's Becky Anderson and Jennifer Deaton

Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at Al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, on November 8.
Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at Al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, on November 8. Doaa Rouqa/Reuters

The United Nations human rights chief has called on Israel to grant his team access to Gaza to investigate competing claims about the Al-Shifa Hospital.

“We need to look into this by having access. We cannot rely on one or the other party when it comes to this," Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told CNN’s Becky Anderson when asked about allegations by the Israeli military that Hamas was hiding weapons at the hospital.

He said the situation needs an "independent international investigation, because we have different narratives."

Pressure on Israel: Israel is under growing international pressure to uncover proof of what it has described as a Hamas command and control center under the Al-Shifa Hospital, as Israeli forces launched a raid at the facility early Wednesday. The Hamas-run government media office denied it was using the hospital as a command and control center — calling the Israeli claims "baseless lies."

Türk said hospitals had special protection at all times under humanitarian law.

“You cannot use civilian, especially hospitals, for any military purposes. But you also cannot attack a hospital in the absence of clear evidence," Türk said.

Request for access to Gaza and the West Bank: Türk said investigators could not go to Gaza "while the bombs are falling or while military operations are taking place,” and so his team was monitoring the situation from afar for now. He said he previously asked the Israeli government for access to Gaza and the occupied West Bank but was “still waiting for the answer.”

The actions of both Israel and Hamas since the militant group’s massacre of an estimated 1,200 people on October 7 must be investigated, Türk said.

International humanitarian law in the conflict: Since Hamas launched its brazen October 7 attacks and Israel responded with intensive air strikes and a ground offensive, both sides have been accused of committing war crimes.

"We have seen … grave breaches of international humanitarian law," Türk said, speaking broadly of the actions from both sides.

“What Hamas did — the horrific killing of civilians, the fact that they took hostages — are clear violations of the law. The fact that we have seen a collective punishment by Israel of Gaza, by cutting off supplies, of medical necessities, of food, of electricity, of water is also [a] very serious matter under international humanitarian law," Türk said.
"In fact, we consider it a crime, [just] as Hamas was acting criminally by taking hostages and killing civilians. So, indeed, there are issues that we all have to look into because they are very serious. And they require answers. And they require accountability," Türk said.

1:30 a.m. ET, November 17, 2023

"The children are starving," Al-Shifa director says, describing desperate conditions inside Gaza hospital

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

Tents and shelters used by displaced Palestinians stand at the yard of Al-Shifa hospital during the Israeli ground operation around the hospital, in Gaza City, on November 12.
Tents and shelters used by displaced Palestinians stand at the yard of Al-Shifa hospital during the Israeli ground operation around the hospital, in Gaza City, on November 12. Ahmed El Mokhallalati/Reuters

The director of Al-Shifa Hospital on Thursday described a grim picture of the unfolding humanitarian crisis within the medical complex in the Gaza Strip.

In a phone interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic, Mohammad Abu Salmiya spoke of desperate conditions affecting over 650 wounded people, 36 premature babies, 45 kidney patients and 5,000 displaced people.

Abu Salmiya said some there were starving children. 

“The children are starving – and here I mean the displaced children because they need milk and there is no water to make milk for them,” Abu Salmiya said.

He reported the death of a kidney patient, with four others on the brink of death due to critical conditions and the absence of dialysis for days.

Abu Salmiya accused the Israeli military of besieging the hospital, sabotaging sections and spending the last 48 hours freely roaming the premises.

On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had begun “a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital.”

Expressing frustration, Abu Salmiya held the world and the Israeli occupation responsible for the dire circumstances, urging immediate intervention.

 The hospital resembles a large prison holding over 7,000 displaced people, medical staff, patients and wounded all while it is facing a severe shortage of essentials, the director said. The Israeli military assault has led to a complete breakdown of life-saving services, leaving the hospital incapable of providing for its inhabitants, he added.

9:53 p.m. ET, November 16, 2023

Hamas calls Israeli claims of finding tunnel shaft at Al-Shifa Hospital "baseless lies" 

From CNN's Abeer Salman 

The Hamas-run government media office on Thursday denied it was using Al-Shifa Hospital as a command and control center — calling the Israeli claims "baseless lies." 

Hamas accused Israel of giving "false scenarios, fabricated narratives, and distorted information" about the Al-Shifa Medical Complex," in a written statement.

Earlier on Thursday, the Israeli army released a video to back up its claim of uncovering a "tunnel shaft" in the grounds of Gaza's main hospital. 

The video showed what appeared to be a hole in the ground surrounded by exposed sandy soil, broken bits of metal, and concrete scattered around it a short distance from a hospital building.

Calling the tunnel shaft claim a "ridiculous scenario," Hamas said it was all "part of a continuous campaign of incitement and deception that has been promoted for years" to justify Israel's wars against Gaza. "It is a failed attempt to escape future accountability and legal pursuit," the statement said. 

The statement added that the Palestinian Ministry of Health "has repeatedly requested dozens of times from all institutions, organizations, international bodies, and relevant parties to form technical teams to visit and inspect all hospitals, in order to refute the false incitement narrative."

1:33 a.m. ET, November 17, 2023

IDF claims it found a tunnel shaft inside Al-Shifa Hospital complex and releases photo and video

From CNN's Andrew Carey

An image of the alleged Hamas tunnel that was released by the Israel Defense Forces on November 16.
An image of the alleged Hamas tunnel that was released by the Israel Defense Forces on November 16. IDF

Israel claims it found an “operational tunnel shaft” inside the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Gaza City.

“Today, Hamas's tunneling infrastructure was exposed inside the hospital,” the Israeli military said in a statement, which also included a photo and video.

Israeli special forces raided the hospital — Gaza’s largest — in the early hours of Wednesday after saying for weeks it was the site of an underground command and control center for Hamas. Doctors and health officials in the Hamas-run enclave have consistently denied the accusation.

CNN cannot independently verify claims by Israel or Hamas.

The video provided by Israel shows exposed earth revealing a hole in the ground. The side of the shaft appears to be reinforced with concrete. Exposed pipes and cabling can also be seen close to the surface. 

At one point the video — which has been geolocated by CNN — tilts up to reveal one of the hospital’s main buildings about 30 meters away from the hole.

The army statement said troops had also found what they said was a booby-trapped car close by containing a large amount of weapons and ammunition.

In a televised briefing Thursday evening, IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said army engineers were working to expose the tunnel infrastructure.

Hagari also said soldiers had unearthed an operational tunnel at the Al-Rantisi hospital in northern Gaza. 

2:57 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

Body of Israeli hostage found near Al-Shifa Hospital, IDF says

From Tamar Michaelis in Tel Aviv

The Israeli army says soldiers near Al-Shifa Hospital have found the body of Yehudit Waiss, who was kidnapped from the kibbutz of Be’eri on October 7. 

The body was recovered from what the army called a "structure" near the medical facility.

The statement offered no details of how she died, and it is not clear what condition the structure was in when the soldiers found the body. No details have been given about when she is believed to have died.

The Hostages and Missing Person’s Families Forum said Waiss was a 65-year-old grandmother. Her husband, Shmuel, was killed in Hamas' attack on October 7.

Waiss has been brought back to Israeli territory, the army added, and the family is aware.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military said Waiss was killed by Hamas, without giving details on the cause of death.

“Unfortunately, Yehudit was murdered by the terrorists in the Gaza Strip, and we didn’t reach her on time,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing.

This post has been updated with the latest reporting.

1:35 a.m. ET, November 17, 2023

Gazans facing "immediate possibility of starvation" as food production collapses, UN organization says

From CNN's Jorge Engels, Mia Aliberti and Chris Liakos

A Palestinian child looks through a broken window of a destroyed building, in Rafah, Gaza on November 15.
A Palestinian child looks through a broken window of a destroyed building, in Rafah, Gaza on November 15. Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu/Getty Images

People in Gaza are facing an “immediate possibility of starvation” as fuel shortages cripple food production and distribution in the enclave, a United Nations organization that provides food assistance warned.

“Supplies of food and water are practically non-existent in Gaza and only a fraction of what is needed is arriving through the borders,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Cindy McCain said in a statement Thursday.

According to the WFP, only 10% of necessary food supplies has entered Gaza since the start of the war with fuel shortages severely impacting bread production as well as the distribution of essential humanitarian aid with aid trucks unable to reach their destination.

The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East reiterated these concerns, saying thousands of people taking shelter at UNRWA facilities in Gaza are "dehydrated, exhausted, hungry and shell-shocked."

"The children were pleading for a sip of water and a loaf of bread," Philippe Lazzarini said of his recent visit to Gaza.

The WFP said it has provided emergency food aid to more than 700,000 displaced Gazans and is planning to reach more than one million people in the next few weeks, but stressed these needs cannot be met with only the Rafah border crossing with Egypt open.

“The only hope is opening another, safe passage for humanitarian access to bring life-saving food into Gaza,” said McCain.

Lazzarini reiterated that if the UNRWA isn't able to get fuel soon, it runs the risk of having to suspend its "entire humanitarian operation" in the enclave.

This post has been updated with the latest comments from UNRWA.