Israeli troops found an operational command centre and assets belonging to Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza's biggest hospital, Israel's military said on Wednesday, during a campaign that has stoked global alarm over the fate of civilians inside.
Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City has become the main target of the incursion into the territory by Israeli forces, who say the "beating heart" of the Hamas fighters' operations is headquartered in tunnels beneath it, something Hamas denies.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the troops, who entered the hospital earlier on Wednesday after encircling it for days, had found weapons, combat gear and technological equipment there and were continuing their search.
The military also released a video they said showed some of the materials recovered from an undisclosed building in the hospital compound, including automatic weapons, grenades, ammunition and flak jackets.
Israel has consistently maintained that the hospital sits above a Hamas headquarters, an assertion the United States said on Tuesday was supported by its own intelligence.
Hailing the entry of his forces into the hospital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: "There is no place in Gaza that we cannot reach. There are no hideouts. There is no shelter or refuge for the Hamas murderers.
"We will reach and eliminate Hamas and we will bring back our hostages. These are two sacred missions," he said.
Israel said its troops had entered the hospital compound on Wednesday after killing militants in a clash outside. Once inside, they said there had been no fighting and no friction with civilians, patients or staff.
Witnesses who spoke to Reuters from inside the compound described a seemingly calm but tense situation, as Israeli troops moved between buildings conducting searches. Sporadic shooting was heard but there were no reports of anyone hurt inside the grounds.
The Israeli military released photos of a soldier standing beside cardboard boxes marked "medical supplies" and "baby food", at a location Reuters verified was inside Al Shifa. Other photos showed Israeli troops in tactical formation walking past makeshift tents and mattresses.
What is happening in Gaza is a very obvious, very clear war crime that Israel is committing against those who have been treated in the hospitalsPalestinian prime minister
International attention has focused on the fate of hundreds of patients trapped inside without electricity to operate basic medical equipment, and thousands of displaced civilians who had sought shelter there. Gaza officials say that many patients including three newborn babies died in recent days as a result of Israel's encirclement of the hospital.
"Before entering the hospital our forces were confronted by explosive devices and terrorist squads, fighting ensued in which terrorists were killed," the Israeli military said.
"We can confirm that incubators, baby food and medical supplies brought by IDF tanks from Israel have successfully reached the Shifa hospital. Our medical teams and Arabic speaking soldiers are on the ground to ensure that these supplies reach those in need," it said.
Israel launched its campaign to wipe out Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, after militants rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the deadliest day of its 75-year history.
Since then, Israel has put Gaza's entire population of 2.3 million under siege, battering the crowded strip with air strikes. Gaza health officials, considered reliable by the United Nations, say about 11,500 Palestinians are now confirmed killed, around 40% of them children, and more are buried under the rubble. Israel has ordered the entire northern half of Gaza evacuated, and around two-thirds of residents are now homeless.
The United Nations Security Council was due to vote later on Wednesday on a draft resolution that calls for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses in the fighting as well as corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days to enable aid access, diplomats said.
Israel has so far rejected calls for a ceasefire, which it says would benefit Hamas, a position backed by Washington. But a pause in fighting has been discussed in negotiations mediated by Qatar to release some of the hostages held by Hamas.
An official briefed on the negotiations said Qatari mediators were seeking a deal that would include a three-day truce, with Hamas releasing 50 of its captives and Israel to release some women and minors from among its security detainees.
The official said Hamas had agreed to the outlines of the deal but Israel had not and was still negotiating terms.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters the Israeli incursion into Al Shifa Hospital was "totally unacceptable".
"Hospitals are not battlegrounds," he said in Geneva.
"What is happening in Gaza is a very obvious, very clear war crime that Israel is committing against those who have been treated in the hospitals," said Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who serves in the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Earlier on Wednesday, a senior Israeli military official said soldiers had "already found weapons and other terror infrastructure" on the premises of Al Shifa - proof, he added, that Hamas has used the hospital as "a terror headquarter".
Hamas called the assertion that weapons were found "a continuation of the lies and cheap propaganda" it said Israel was pumping out to justify "its crime aimed at destroying the health sector in Gaza".
Dr Ahmed El Mohallalati, a surgeon, told Reuters by phone that staff had hid as the fighting unfolded around the hospital overnight. As he spoke, the sound of what he described as "continuous shooting from the tanks" could be heard in the background.
"One of the big tanks entered within the hospital from the eastern main gate, and... they just parked in the front of the hospital emergency department," he said.
The Israelis had told the hospital administration in advance that they planned to enter, he said. By mid-morning, he and other staff had yet to receive instructions from the troops, although the soldiers were "metres away" from them.
After five days during which he said the hospital had come under repeated Israeli attack, it was a relief at least to have reached an "end point", with troops now inside the grounds instead of outside shooting in, Mohallalati said.