Al-Shifa doctor says staff hiding from gunfire during Israeli raid

A doctor in Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital told Reuters on Wednesday that gunfire forced staff to stay away from windows for their safety as Israeli forces began raiding the complex.

Israel said the military had launched the raid because Hamas has a command center underneath the hospital and uses connected tunnels to hold hostages, an allegation that doctor Ahmed El Mokhallalati denied.

“Bombardment. Shooting around the hospital and within the hospital. It’s really horrible you can feel that it’s very near to the hospital. And then we realized that the tanks are moving around the hospital,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“They just parked in front of the hospital emergency department. All kinds of weapons were used around the hospital. They targeted the hospital directly. We try to avoid being near the windows.”

Global calls for a humanitarian ceasefire have mounted in recent days, and the fate of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s biggest hospital has become a focus of international alarm because of worsening conditions in the facility.

Thousands of patients, medical staff and displaced people have been trapped during the Israeli assault on Gaza in the past five weeks. Israel says it has urged civilians to surrender, saying they are being used by Hamas as human shields.

“We know this is a lie,” said Mokhallalati.

As Mokhallalati described the dangers ahead and deteriorating conditions in the hospital, shots which did not sound like an exchange of gunfire rang out twice.

“One of the patient’s rooms was targeted. There was a whole in the wall. No one was injured but everyone got terrified,” he said.

“So yesterday early evening it started… shooting around the hospital and within the hospital. And the sound was really horrible. Look, you can feel that it’s, you know, it’s very near to the hospital,” he said.

“And then we realized that the tanks are moving around the hospital. One of the big tanks entered within the hospital from the eastern main gate, and they were, they were they just parked in the front of the hospital emergency department.”

“All kinds of weapons were used around the hospital. They targeted the hospital directly. We try to avoid being near the windows,” he said.

Another witness inside the hospital, reached by telephone, said tanks had entered the compound at 3:00 a.m. The Israeli troops dismounted and spread out in the yard, and began searching the basement and entering buildings.

“It was very dangerous looking from the glass window. The administration of the hospital told us the occupation army informed them they wanted to search us and search room by room. I am very scared,” the man said, asking that his name be withheld for fear of Israeli reprisals.

“There was no shooting because there were no gunmen inside the facility. The soldiers were acting freely as were people inside the hospital, the doctors, the wounded and the displaced,” the man said. He later told Reuters that gunfire could occasionally be heard and he was remaining in hiding.

In a statement, Israel’s military said: “Based on intelligence information and an operational necessity, IDF forces are carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa hospital.”

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told CNN the hospital and compound were for Hamas “a central hub of their operations, perhaps even the beating heart and maybe even a center of gravity.”

The US said on Tuesday that its own intelligence supported Israel’s conclusions. Hamas said that amounted to giving Israel a “green light” for Israel to raid the hospital, and it held US President Joe Biden fully responsible for the operation along with Israel itself.

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