Inside the ruins of Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital | EUROtoday

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GAZA CITY — Gaza’s largest hospital has been gutted. Combat bulldozers have moved sand into the courtyards. The buildings are scorched. It smells like loss of life. Israeli commandos pulled out earlier than daybreak on Monday.

A sprawling medical campus that housed maternity wards, surgical procedure suites and emergency rooms has been principally destroyed after two weeks of intense assault by Israeli troops battling Hamas militants who Israel stated had been barricading themselves contained in the advanced.

Spokesmen for the Israel Defense Forces introduced a handful of international journalists into the compound Sunday afternoon, simply hours earlier than the final particular forces troops withdrew. A reporter and photographer from The Washington Post had been there.

The IDF provided a slim view — a pinhole, actually — however what we noticed was destruction on an enormous scale. Military censors didn’t evaluate our phrases or images.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of al-Shifa, the place the dueling narratives of this struggle have converged.

The hospital has served as a beacon of refuge and resilience for Palestinians. The Israelis described it as a mustering level and command heart for terrorists who used the docs and sufferers as human shields.

The workers who’ve toiled at al-Shifa stated they only wished to look after the sick and wounded. “We are doctors: Our job is to treat people. We have nothing to do with this,” stated Amr Fawzi Jedbah, a 31-year-old vascular surgeon, who spoke to The Post within the early days of the raid.

As we emerged from the windowless armored personnel carriers that introduced us to the location, the primary view was sand, and, for a second, there was silence. Gaza City, extra rubble now than metropolis, was quiet.

Then we heard small-arms hearth.

The compound smelled of our bodies. And rot. Everything that may very well be damaged, smashed or twisted was, after 14 days of preventing. Dozens of fighters had been killed, the IDF stated, however stated it couldn’t present a exact depend. Some desperately sick sufferers had been evacuated; others, support teams stated, died in the course of the siege.

Before this second offensive towards al-Shifa, the hospital was nonetheless functioning, if simply barely, after a primary raid by Israel troopers in November. When the March assault started two weeks in the past, there have been 6,000 folks sheltering on the grounds, in accordance with the IDF — sufferers, medical workers and displaced households.

On Sunday, we didn’t see a single Palestinian.

In the central quad, there have been new sand dunes formed by bulldozers. Israeli armor and personnel carriers encircled the advanced; troops moved rapidly from spot to identify.

We had been informed that Palestinian snipers remained within the space and {that a} handful of Hamas operatives may nonetheless be shifting across the hospital buildings, primarily based on night-vision sweeps of the compound.

We noticed solely Israeli troopers. In one darkened room, a platoon of commandos slept on the ground beside hallways strewn with trash.

There had been sporadic bursts of automated rifle hearth within the distance and what we guessed had been heavier rounds being fired. It was unclear who was capturing, or at what.

The Israeli particular forces described close-quarter fight with determined fighters from Hamas who had been taken without warning and barricaded themselves in emptied hospital wards, together with elevator shafts and working rooms.

The Israelis stated two Palestinian militants, in confrontations, used grenades to kill themselves in what can be the primary reported suicide bombings of this newest Gaza struggle. This couldn’t be confirmed.

We had been hustled right into a mid-rise medical workplace constructing seized by Israeli Navy SEALs, our masked escorts who guided us to the highest flooring to see the destruction beneath.

All of the principle buildings of al-Shifa had been blasted and blackened, partitions lacking, shards of cement flooring pulling towards twisted rebar.

These buildings weren’t pancaked by huge bombs, however focused by Israel’s air power strikes, artillery hearth and small arms. The constructing that housed the Israeli commandos was additionally pocked by bullet holes and shattered glass.

What the Israeli army described on the outset as a “precise operation” appeared extra like all-out city warfare.

We weren’t given entry to the final 140 Palestinians — workers and sufferers — that the IDF stated had been sheltering in a close-by constructing, ready to be evacuated. The remainder of the civilians had already been despatched to different medical services, the army stated, or had been informed to go south.

“There was no medical care or drinking water or food” for the primary three days of the raid, in accordance with Mohamed al-Sikafi, 18, who texted with The Post final Tuesday after making it out of al-Shifa to a close-by hospital, one of many few nonetheless functioning within the north. “There are many patients whose health conditions declined.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director normal of the World Health Organization, wrote on X late Sunday that 21 sufferers had died at al-Shifa “since the hospital came under siege.” The IDF stated no medical workers or sufferers died as a “direct result” of the Israeli raid, including that some could have died of “natural causes.”

Reporters had been led to an unlit room for a briefing by a prime officer within the navy particular operations unit known as Flotilla 13, one essentially the most secretive within the Israeli forces, well-known for the reason that founding of the Jewish state.

Col. “E” — we weren’t allowed to call him or {photograph} his face — described his mission: Kill or seize Hamas fighters and spare the innocents.

The colonel stated that after the Israeli forces left the hospital after the primary raid in November, Hamas fighters streamed again into the advanced to take up arms, search shelter and blend with civilians.

“They go where they know,” the colonel stated, suggesting that in bombed-out Gaza City, the al-Shifa advanced provided shelter, meals, water, electrical energy and web service.

Earlier within the struggle, the IDF made a lot of the tunnels they discovered on the hospital grounds. They described an unlimited underground command and management heart, a digital metropolis. But definitive proof was missing. There had been clearly tunnels. But the place was Hamas?

As it seems, the Israeli commando colonel burdened that the tunnel system could not have been as necessary as they as soon as thought. Instead, the colonel stated, the Hamas operatives in latest months had been working above floor, inside places of work and wards. The IDF confirmed photos of what they stated had been money, rifles, RPGs, grenades, mortars and a few Hamas paperwork discovered on-site.

Basem Naim, a Hamas official, denied Sunday that militants had been utilizing the hospital as a staging floor, telling The Post it was “propaganda to justify the attack on our people.”

“Even if some Hamas members were present in the hospital as refugees,” he continued, “does this justify destroying hospitals?”

Medical workers acknowledged repeatedly that the advanced was not used for army functions. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British Palestinian physician who spent a number of weeks tending to the wounded at al-Shifa final 12 months, stated Monday that his good friend and colleague Ahmad Maqadmeh, “a beautiful soul and a great surgeon,” was among the many lifeless.

“He refused to leave the north and kept sending me photos of his surgeries,” Abu Sitta wrote on Instagram. “He leaves behind a wife and baby.”

The Israeli colonel — and the IDF spokesman — each repeated that the al-Shifa offensive represented “a success and a tragedy.”

“It is a success that we struck Hamas so hard, that this was a brutal hit against them, that Hamas now tell us that they are ‘out of business’ in the north,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari stated. But he stated it was a tragedy that Israeli troopers had been “forced” to destroy the hospital buildings.

“We had no choice but to fight back,” stated the navy particular forces commander.

As the journalists appeared out on the destruction, considered one of Hagari’s officers stated, “This is what they made us do.”

Since the start of the raid, the IDF stated it has detained 900 suspected Hamas fighters and that 540 have been despatched to Israel.

How many Palestinians fighters had been killed over two weeks of preventing? The IDF didn’t present an actual determine. Hagari stated 40 had been killed. The commando chief stated “a few dozens.”

No loss of life toll has been offered but by Palestinian authorities, who gained entry to the location once more on Monday because the Israelis withdrew. Mahmoud Bassal, spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defense, stated emergency employees entered the compound at daybreak.

“The scene here is one of the ugliest we have seen since October 7,” he stated. “The hospital has become completely unfit to be a medical center. The situation is tragic in every sense of the word.”

During the offensive, the IDF stated it killed Faiq al-Mabhouh, whom Israel known as a commander within the Hamas inside safety forces. Hamas stated he was a police commander charged with coordinating and defending support deliveries.

“They consider that everyone who works with the government in Gaza is a Hamas activist and can be killed or arrested, even doctors, nurses, journalists and civilian police,” stated Naim, the Hamas official.

The IDF stated it additionally “eliminated” a senior Hamas official named Ra’advert Tabath, whom they described as a frontrunner of the group’s provide traces.

IDF officers have described the raid at al-Shifa as a mannequin for future motion in Gaza: intense however targeted strikes by commandos. One query, although, is why such a big and harmful operation was required.

The army claimed in late December it was near establishing “full operational control” of northern Gaza. More not too long ago, it stated it had “dismantled” Hamas’s battalions within the north. It was solely pure, the particular forces commander stated, that Hamas fighters would regroup round al-Shifa.

Now, he stated, there was no hospital left for them to return to.

The journalists piled again in armored personnel carriers for the journey again to Israel. We stopped, with out warning, alongside the best way. The troopers informed us they’d come throughout a household of 4 Palestinians: a mom and father and two kids. We couldn’t see them.

The troopers stated the household had been in an space the place they weren’t allowed to be. They had been provided water and a chocolate bar after which detained, we had been informed; the daddy can be carefully questioned. Hagari, the army spokesman, informed us it was the perfect plan of action.

Had the household proceeded in a no-go zone, he stated, the IDF troopers “could have shot them.”

Miriam Berger in Jerusalem, Hajar Harb in London and Hazem Balousha in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.