Doubts over Israel's claims of fighter arrests at Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital

Doubts over Israel's claims of fighter arrests at Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital
Witnesses say that Israeli forces have been detaining and beating men at the hospital while Israel has claimed to have arrested hundreds of fighters.
4 min read
22 March, 2024
Gaza's health system has been routinely attacked by Israel since the start of the war in October [GETTY]

Israel’s military offensive on Gaza’s largest hospital complex has seen thousands of Palestinians forcibly evacuated and hundreds more arrested, including medical workers and journalists.

Throughout the five-day assault on Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City - which the Israeli military describes as a "precise operational activity" –  it has issued daily statements alleging the number of people killed and arrested who they describe as 'suspects' or 'terrorists'.

In a video statement on Thursday, Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the assault would continue for "several more days", giving various details of the operation.

He said: "We have apprehended over 500 suspects, 358 of which are Hamas and Islamic Jihad".

Yet earlier on Thursday, in a joint statement the military and its intelligence services issued a different set of numbers, saying they had apprehended "approximately 600 terrorists" and "more than 140 terrorists have been eliminated in encounters".

But despite the scale of these differing numbers, which if accurate constitute some of the largest casualty and arrest figures during a single 'operation' throughout the conflict, no supporting evidence has been provided by the army.

In a new turn on Friday, the army backtracked on a photo collage it had issued the previous day which it claimed showed "some of the 358 terrorists apprehended by the IDF and ISA in the Shifa Hospital".

Some of the images appear to originate from Palestinian Authority ID cards, but the army said it mistakenly included people "who have not yet been caught".

It said that "due to human error, there are several photos in the graphic of terrorists who have not yet been caught but are, according to the information we have, in the area of ​​the hospital and are entrenched there".

"When the operation is over, the identities of all the terrorists will be published," it added.

According to Palestinian journalist Younis Tirawi, one of the men pictured in the collage is a doctor from the medical faculty of the Islamic University of Gaza.

"One of the individuals the Israeli military is falsely accusing of being a terrorist is actually Professor and Pediatric Doctor Anwar Sheikh Khalil, who serves as the Dean of the Medical Faculty at IUG University," Tirawi wrote in a post on X.

Since the beginning of the war, Israel claims that Hamas fighters are holed up at the hospital among patients and medical staff, a claim that has been denied by all involved parties.

Israeli forces first invaded the hospital in November, which triggered an international outcry. There have been over 600 attacks on the health system since then, according to the UN.

The latest assault began early on Monday morning and saw troops, tanks and snipers encircle the vast medical complex, trapping the 30,000 people who had sought refuge there.

Witnesses reported air strikes and tanks near the sprawling complex, and by Thursday the army had reportedly begun blowing up specialist medical buildings.

Hamas has said the army is killing displaced people, patients and medical staff.

In a statement on Friday the military said: "The IDF and ISA are continuing to conduct precise operational activity in the Shifa Hospital area while preventing harm to civilians, patients, medical teams, and medical equipment".

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Communications have been severely disrupted since Wednesday and therefore it has been difficult to ascertain the condition of the thousands of civilians besieged.

Agency AFP spoke to eyewitnesses at the hospital who said that "all men" including the sick and physically disabled and been arrested and taken by the Israeli army.

AFP quoted a woman called Mariam who said: "They asked us at around dawn with loudspeakers to go out or they would bomb the building."

Another patient, a 60-year-old man, interviewed by AFP said the army forced him to take his clothes off, and was blindfolded and interrogated before being released. The man also said that men were arrested and beaten.

Journalists covering the raid have also been arrested and subjected to abuse by troops, including Al Jazeera correspondent Ismail Alghoul, whose equipment was destroyed.

Al-Araby TV correspondent Mohammed Arab was also detained on Thursday by Israeli forces, with his location still unknown.

Medical staff have been reportedly arrested and accused of fighting for Hamas – accusations which have been repeatedly deployed by Israel throughout the conflict which has killed doctors, aid workers and journalists.

Since the start of the war in October, Israel's military has conducted widespread arrests of civilians in Gaza, detaining and disappearing men, women and children.

Testimonies from those later released have revealed horrific accounts of torture and deprivation imposed by Israeli authorities.

Earlier in March it was reported that the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA is preparing a report listing hundreds of cases of Israeli abuse against Palestinians detained in Gaza.