US Intelligence Supports Israeli Claims
According to US intelligence assessments reported this week, militant groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) used Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, as a command center and to hold hostages during fighting with Israel last October.
Israel had long accused Hamas of using the hospital for military purposes, but lacked definitive proof. The US assessments, which several officials have described as reliable and confident, provide significant backing for Israel’s claims.
Specifically, US intelligence believes Hamas and PIJ leaders directed militant operations from a bunker underneath Al-Shifa hospital during an escalation of violence October 7-8. The groups reportedly used the hospital as a site to store weapons and hold Israeli hostages for a potential prisoner exchange.
Israel Struck Tunnels Beneath Hospital
The US assessments help validate Israel’s stated rationale for carrying out strikes on tunnels directly underneath Al-Shifa hospital in late December. Those strikes damaged parts of the hospital complex.
Israel claimed it hit the tunnels because they were being used by militants to move weapons and launch attacks. With the US findings, Israel now argues it has definitively shown how Hamas endangered Palestinian civilians by militarizing medical facilities.
Hamas denies the charges and accuses Israel of targeting medical infrastructure vital for Gaza civilians. Rights groups have also criticized the hospital strikes. Israel insists it acted lawfully to prevent further attacks.
|Injuries from December Israeli Strikes on Al-Shifa Tunnels
|5 Palestinian civilians wounded
Hamas Reportedly Evacuated Hospital Beforehand
Citing Israeli defense sources, some reports indicate Hamas may have learned in advance about Israel’s plans to hit the tunnels under Al-Shifa.
Hamas is said to have cleared hostages and valuable equipment from parts of the hospital prior to the strikes. Israel detected increased activity suggesting an evacuation, but proceeded with the operation based on the imminent threat.
If true, the reports suggest Hamas again jeopardized civilians by embedding military assets in civilian sites, while taking steps to protect its own personnel and assets once those sites became targets.
Repercussions for Future Conflict
The US intelligence findings support long-standing Israeli accusations regarding Hamas’ conduct during conflicts in Gaza. Israel will likely point to the assessments to defend its own actions in future clashes with Hamas.
Rights groups critical of Israeli strikes on civilian infrastructure tied to Hamas will also need to grapple with the latest revelations about Hamas endangering civilians.
With tensions still simmering after recent violence, the determinations over the hospital could factor heavily into how both sides approach the next round of fighting. Each will look to craft narratives to justify their actions and condemn the other.
Ongoing Debate and Confirmation
Israeli officials and Hamas have continued to debate the allegations this week as the US intelligence assessments surfaced. Each side put forth contrasting narratives.
An Israeli general confirmed Israel struck tunnels under Al-Shifa on December 26th based on intelligence Hamas was using them to move militants and weapons.
Hamas authorities denied ever using the hospital for military purposes or storing weapons, saying the charges are false pretexts to justify targeting medical sites.
With definitive proof still elusive in the war of narratives, the US intelligence conclusions carry significant weight. More facts could yet emerge about what transpired at the hospital during recent fighting.
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