Middle East conflict: A hospital as a Hamas command center?

Middle East conflict: A hospital as a Hamas command center?

Israel accuses Hamas of having a headquarters in the largest clinic in the Gaza Strip. In addition to patients and staff, there are also thousands of people seeking protection in the hospital. How will Israel’s army act?

As Israel’s military advances further into the city of Gaza, a possible – and highly controversial – target is coming into focus: the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip. According to findings by Israeli secret services, the terrorist organization Hamas, which dominates the coastal area, is using the hospital as a command and control center.

Precarious conditions in Shifa Hospital

The fighting near the clinic is becoming more intense. Eyewitnesses report damage to the hospital’s roof after Israeli bombing. Tens of thousands of people have found refuge in the corridors and grounds of the overcrowded clinic, including Mohammed al-Kuka and his family. There are fears that the Israeli army will attack the building, he tells the German Press Agency. A man who was praying next to him was recently killed by shelling, says al-Kuka. Many people have now fled the clinic. He himself wanted to leave there.

Clinic Director: Misleading accusations

The clinic’s director, Mohammed Abu Salamija, calls Israel’s accusations that Hamas is using the clinic for its own purposes a “misleading attempt” to drive people out of the hospital. He reports terrible conditions for the patients and the completely overworked staff. According to the media, the clinic with its departments for surgery, internal medicine, radiology, obstetrics and gynecology offers space for 700 patients. According to reports, thousands are currently being treated.

Salamija also warns of a fuel shortage. If there is no more fuel, it could be immediately fatal for people who need to be ventilated, for example. Israel’s army, on the other hand, explains that there is fuel in the hospitals in the Gaza Strip – which Hamas uses for its “terror infrastructure.”

Human rights activist: There was torture in the clinic department

There have been allegations from other sources in the past that Hamas is using the Shifa Hospital for acts of violence. The human rights organization Amnesty International reported more than eight years ago that Hamas members tortured Palestinians in a disused section of the clinic in 2014 during a war with Israel. Hamas accused the victims of collaborating with Israel. Military expert Danny Orbach from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem says it has been known for many years that Hamas is using the clinic, which Israel had once ordered to be expanded, for its own purposes. There is “no doubt” about the finding.

Army: hideout for terrorists

According to the Israeli army, Hamas also uses various departments in the hospital to order rockets to be fired. “Hamas is waging war from hospitals,” says military spokesman Daniel Hagari. After the massacre on October 7th, hundreds of terrorists hid in the Shifa clinic. According to the military, there is also an entrance to the underground base within the clinic. Hamas denies the allegations.

Abuse of clinics is a war crime

The army released satellite images and materials to prove that the clinic was being used by Hamas. Videos showed control rooms and connecting tunnels deep in the ground beneath the clinic. The information cannot currently be independently verified. According to international law expert Daniel-Erasmus Khan from the University of the Bundeswehr, the use of a clinic for military purposes constitutes a war crime.

Civilian goals in international humanitarian law

Israel’s armed forces say they are committed to attacking Hamas wherever necessary. The army does not say whether this also means the Shifa Hospital. Israeli media reports that the military has not yet decided whether and when troops will be sent to the clinic.

According to international humanitarian law, attacks on civilian targets such as hospitals are prohibited. “However, when civilian objects are misused, they are no longer sacrosanct per se,” explains Khan. “If the Israeli narrative is correct, then such an attack would be permissible.” In this case, international humanitarian law even accepts unintentional civilian victims. Israel must still do everything it can to evacuate civilians from the clinic.

Expert: Army will convert clinic

The historian Orbach believes that proportionality is given. “The military value is high – even if the Hamas leadership is not at the base.” However, the Israeli army assumes that most high-ranking Hamas members are hiding in the clinics, especially in the Shifa Hospital. They took advantage of the fact that the army did not bomb hospitals. According to Orbach, the destruction of the “center of Hamas rule” would also be a symbolic victory for Israel over the terrorist organization. But Israel will wait, he suspects. First of all, the army will surround the clinic until everyone inside surrenders.

Mass evacuation and patient transfers

The military historian assumes that the Islamist organization’s power will soon collapse. “This will create a domino effect.” The armed forces could then enforce the mass evacuation of civilians from the clinic. Orbach sees the fact that more and more people are currently following the army’s call and fleeing to the south of the Gaza Strip as a sign that Hamas is beginning to lose control. Patients could be transferred from the clinic to hospitals donated from abroad, says Orbach.

According to Israeli media, there was already an agreement between Israel and emergency services to transfer 50 patients. When the ambulances arrived, Hamas reportedly only let seven people out of the Shifa hospital. Meanwhile, the UN rejects the transfer of patients – this endangers the lives of those affected.

According to military expert Orbach, once an evacuation has been completed, the army will bomb the clinic in a targeted manner. Eventually, ground forces could capture the building and destroy the Hamas facilities inside. The military historian does not believe that the army will reduce the building to rubble. He even believes it is possible that the hospital, which was founded during the British Mandate, could be used as a clinic again after the war.

Source: Stern

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