Shifa hospital the focus of IDF ground operations in Gaza

An IDF M109 howitzer positioned near the Gaza Strip provides artillery support for the 162nd Division’s operations. Photograph by Seth J. Frantzman.

Seth Frantzman is reporting from Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces on November 15 began the task of searching Gaza’s Shifa hospital for evidence of Hamas’ use of the facility as a headquarters and weapons storage depot. The numerous buildings composing the hospital complex — Gaza’s largest — adds to the mission’s existing complexities. The hospital has grown over the last fifty years, including with additions and renovations conducted by Israel when it ran the Gaza Strip prior to its disengagement in 2005. Since 2014, there have been many reports that Hamas uses areas under the hospital as a command and control node.

On November 15, the IDF entered a specific area of the hospital and searched for evidence of Hamas terrorists’ use of the premises. “An operational command center, weapons and technological assets were found in the MRI building of the hospital; IDF troops are continuing the precise and targeted operation against Hamas in the Shifa Hospital complex,” the IDF said.

IDF forces including medical teams and Arabic speakers began the operation at Shifa hospital one week after closing in on the area from the south. Prior to commencing, these IDF forces conducted training tailored to the unique challenges posed by such an environment. The IDF emphasized in numerous statements that it is exercising caution to avoid harming civilians. It also supplied the hospital with humanitarian aid, including incubators.

The hospital is located in the west of Gaza City, not far from the Mediterranean coast. The IDF 36th Division, which had encircled Gaza from the south, played a key role in securing the areas around the hospital. As the IDF began its operation, it had a brief clash with terrorists near the hospital. The IDF says it eliminated the terrorists. “During searches in one of the departments of the hospital, the troops located a room with technological assets, along with military and combat equipment used by the Hamas terrorist organization,” the IDF said on November 15.

In another area of the hospital, an “operational command center and technological assets belonging to Hamas” were found. The IDF said it would continue to operate in the hospital compound. It is “extracting intelligence” from this operation and is also “preventing harm to the medical teams and civilians sheltering there.” A day before the hospital raid, CNN reported that “a US official with knowledge of American intelligence says 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.” This confirms Israel’s claims in recent weeks that Hamas uses the hospital. The IDF also found evidence of terrorist use of a basement in Rantisi hospital in the north of Gaza City.

The IDF on Wednesday provided updates of two additional operations in Gaza. One was related to the 14th Reserve Brigade. This unit, operating in the northern Gaza Strip, took over a Hamas outpost which the IDF said “was used by the Hamas terrorist organization as a training base where the terrorists prepared to attack Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers.” The IDF also said dozens of terrorists were killed in the battle. This is one of several Hamas strongholds and posts that have been taken in the last week. The Golani and 7th Armored Brigades, operating in the southwest of Gaza City, also took over a number of Hamas-occupied governmental buildings. Other units of the 162nd Division operating along the coast took the Shati Camp. The commander of the 162nd praised these operations, noting the unit had “eliminated over 1,000 terrorists” since ground operations began. He also said “the forces also significantly decreased missile launches towards the State of Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, reducing them by approximately 80 percent.”

In addition, the IDF said that 160 tunnel shafts were destroyed and 2,800 “terrorist infrastructure” were eliminated in these operations in the northwest of Gaza City. “The 162nd Division secured strategic Hamas assets, including the Force 17 outpost, the Hamas security quarter,” the IDF said. Taken together, these operations illustrate increasing IDF control of Hamas-occupied areas and facilities around Gaza City, leaving what remains of Hamas encircled and deprived of many of its usual outposts, command centers and bases in the northern Gaza Strip.

Outside of Gaza, threats to Israel continued from Hezbollah and the Iran-backed Houthis. The US guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner intercepted a drone that was launched from Yemen, according to CBS. A separate report at Reuters claimed that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that Iran would not enter the war on behalf of Hamas. On Wednesday, the IDF said that “a number of launches were identified from Lebanon toward Israeli territory. No injuries were reported. IDF artillery is currently striking the sources of the fire.” Wednesday saw a general reduction of rocket fire from both Lebanon and Gaza.

US National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa and Deputy Advisor to President Joe Biden Brett McGurk visited Israel on Wednesday. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant. “Minister Gallant briefed the Coordinator on operational developments, as IDF troops advance in Gaza and target Hamas terror infrastructure. They discussed the complexity of said operations in light of Hamas’ entrenchment within urban environments and the cynical use of civilian institutions, including multiple hospitals,” the Defense Minister’s office said in a statement.

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 

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