GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israeli troops carried out building-by-building searches at Gaza’s main hospital, as a new communications blackout in the territory on Friday compounded fears for Palestinian civilians trapped inside the facility.
Al-Shifa hospital has become a focal point for Israeli operations in northern Gaza since soldiers raided the complex on Wednesday, hunting for a command center they say militant group Hamas operates there.
Hamas and hospital managers deny that charge, and there has been international concern about several thousand people — including wounded patients and premature babies — believed to be trapped inside.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in response to the group’s October 7 attack, which killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw about 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.
Israel’s air bombardment and ground operation has killed 11,500 people, including thousands of children, according to Hamas-run local authorities in Gaza.
Israeli authorities have defended their operation, and the military said Thursday it found rifles, ammunition, explosives and the entrance to a tunnel shaft at Al-Shifa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged hostages may even have been held at the medical facility.
“We had strong indications that they were held in the Shifa Hospital, which is one of the reasons we entered the hospital,” he told “CBS Evening News.”
“If they were [there], they were taken out,” he said.
Allegations about the hospital have not been verified, and on Friday communications with the Gaza Strip were severed once again.
Network provider Paltel group said all telecommunications were down because “all energy sources sustaining the network have been depleted, and fuel was not allowed in.”
The UN warned that the blackout would compound the misery of civilians, complicating efforts to distribute aid and possibly triggering looting of its supplies.
“When you have a blackout and you cannot communicate with anyone anymore... that triggers and fuels even more the anxiety and the panic,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.
Israel said its forces were searching Al-Shifa “one building at a time,” and announced the discovery of the body of a woman hostage at a building nearby.
Israel’s ground operation has so far focused on the north of the Gaza Strip, where it has announced the seizure of the parliament building, government offices, Hamas police headquarters and a key port. It says 51 of its troops have been killed in the fighting.
Hospitals have become a particular target, with Israel saying it has found tunnels or military equipment at the Al-Shifa, Rantisi and Al-Quds facilities.
Palestinian health officials said Thursday that the Al-Ahli hospital was under attack, with the Palestinian Red Crescent saying casualties in the courtyard could not be reached by medical staff because of explosions and gunfire.
Washington has backed Israel’s allegations that Hamas is using hospitals as command centers, while urging operations be “incredibly careful.”
More than half of Gaza’s hospitals are no longer functional, due to either combat, damage, or shortages, and Israel’s raid on Al-Shifa left extensive damage to the radiology, burns and dialysis unit, the Hamas-run health ministry said.
With international concern about the conflict growing, the UN Security Council on Wednesday passed a resolution urging “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in fighting.
But the resolution — passed with abstentions from the United States, Britain and Russia — was rejected by Israel as “disconnected from reality.”
Alongside the conflict in Gaza, there is growing concern about violence in the West Bank, where violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians has surged.
In an attack claimed by Hamas, three gunmen on Thursday killed an Israeli soldier and wounded five others at a checkpoint leading into Jerusalem from the West Bank.
Overnight, a large deployment of Israeli troops raided the Jenin refugee camp, AFP reporters there said, prompting clashes. Israel’s military did not immediately comment.