Washington: Hamas used the “al-Shifa compound” and vacated it before the Israeli army arrived.
A US official said yesterday (Tuesday), citing US intelligence, that US intelligence assessments suggest that Hamas and another Palestinian group fighting Israel have used the al-Shifa medical complex in Gaza to monitor forces and hold some hostages. But they mostly vacated the compound days before Israeli forces moved in.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement use the compound to oversee forces fighting against Israel.
The US intelligence services did not disclose what evidence they based their assessment on. The US has independently confirmed the information, the official said.
Israel also claimed that Hamas was using the Al-Shifa compound, which it previously occupied in the war in Gaza. Israeli forces entered the hospital in November.
The targeting of the hospital raised global concerns about the fate of the civilians and patients inside.
Last month, the World Health Organization described the emergency department of the main health facility on the Strip as a “blood bath”.
The U.S. official said the U.S. government believes Hamas used the hospital complex and the sites beneath it to conduct command-and-control operations, store some weapons and hold a small number of hostages.
The U.S. official added that U.S. intelligence services had received information that Hamas had evacuated most of its fighters days before the Israeli operation, destroying documents and electronic devices as they left.
The New York Times first published the US intelligence assessment. A confidential copy of the estimate was sent to lawmakers in the US Congress.
In mid-November, Israeli tanks advanced on the “al-Shifa compound” in Gaza City, with some patients inside. Israel has said the hospital is located above the tunnels that house the headquarters of Hamas militants who use patients as shields, which Hamas denies.
The New York Times reported that the Israeli assessment was at least partly correct, and that some of the hostages were being held in or under the compound; But these hostages appear to have been transferred after Hamas pulled it out.
In November, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Hamas militants had taken refuge in the hospital and used the facility as a shield against military action, putting patients and medical staff at risk.
“We have our own intelligence that leads us to believe that Hamas is using al-Shifa as a command and control point and mostly as a storage facility,” Kirby said in November. At the time, Washington did not lift the declassification of US intelligence sources.
It comes at a time when the courtyard of Al-Shifa Hospital has turned into a cemetery containing dozens of graves of those killed in Israeli bombing.