December 11, 2023

Israel claims to have found caches of weapons and a Hamas “operational headquarters” inside Gaza’s largest hospital, which it raided in the early hours of Wednesday morning as part of its ground offensive in the Palestinian territory.

“Intelligence information”—which the U.S. affirmed—had led the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to believe it was an “operational necessity” to storm the Shifa Hospital, on the western side of Gaza City, it said, noting militant activity on the site precluded it from protection under international law.

But in the hours since the raid, video and pictorial evidence it has produced suggests a comparatively small weapons cache inside the building—and, as yet, no tunnels. The sparse evidence raises fresh questions about Israel’s claim that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.

Munir al-Boursh, a senior official with the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry inside the hospital, told the Associated Press that Israeli troops had searched the hospital’s basement levels and grounds for tunnels.

IDF Shifa Hospital split
Israel Defense Forces soldiers search inside the Shifa Hospital in Gaza on November 15, 2023 (L) and (R) the military equipment and weapons it claims they found inside the medical complex.

While militants in Gaza are known to use an elaborate network of tunnels to move men and ammunitions around unseen, Israel has yet to provide visual evidence for its claim that a Hamas center of operations was located underneath the Shifa Hospital. Hamas and hospital staff have refuted the accusation that it was a home for militant operations.

It did take several days for the IDF to approach the hospital—the IDF said it killed four militants outside the hospital before entering—so it is possible that any militant stockpiles were moved. But the apparent lack of tunnels complicates an already conflicted picture.

Newsweek approached the IDF via email for comment on Thursday, which acknowledged the request but has yet to respond.

Since around 1,500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants staged a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, killing an estimated 1,200 people, including many civilians, Israel has conducted an intensive campaign of airstrikes on Gaza and a subsequent ground offensive. The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing violence, the AP reported.

Israel’s intervention in Gaza has sparked pro-Palestinian protests in the U.S. and across the globe, many of which have called for a ceasefire. Israel has consistently refused such a move and commentators have said a ceasefire would give the well-entrenched militants time to regroup.

Shifa Hospital, like others in Gaza, has struggled to treat patients with limited supplies and a lack of power. Israel has withheld fuel from the territory over fears Hamas militants would use it for counterattacks, and said that supplies it delivered to another hospital earlier in the week were stolen by militants.

Israel has stressed its war is not with Palestinians, but with Hamas, and to make that point, it has hand-delivered medical supplies to Shifa. On Wednesday, the IDF published video footage of soldiers carrying incubators into the hospital.

Shifa Hospital
An aerial view of the Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City on November 7, 2023. Israeli forces entered the medical complex on Wednesday morning.
BASHAR TALEB/AFP via Getty Images

It later produced a walk-through of the Israeli military’s finds, which included a “grab bag” of automatic rifles and magazines behind an MRI unit, a backpack containing a laptop with the image of a kidnapped IDF soldier, another small cache of automatic rifles without magazines, and several other tranches of militant kit including flak vests with the Al Qassam Brigade logo—the armed wing of Hamas.

Newsweek could not independently verify that the weapons and other paraphernalia were uncovered inside the hospital.

By comparison, the same day the IDF said they took over the Shati camp to the north of Shifa and west of Jabalia, where they found a weapons stockpile purportedly belonging to Hamas’ naval forces. Pictures it produced of the sizable cache showed not only automatic rifles and magazines, but also mines, RPGs, grenades, diving gear and what appears to be explosive materials.

Also unhelpful is an apparent discrepancy between the IDF walk-through and a similar one done later by a Fox News reporter embedded with Israeli forces: the latter shows the addition of two automatic rifles on top of the duffel bag found in the MRI room that were not seen in the prior video.

The IDF has maintained that “an operational headquarters and technological means” belonging to Hamas had been uncovered in one of Shifa’s departments, adding: “During searches inside one of the hospital’s wards, the fighters located a room containing unique technological means, combat equipment and military equipment used by the terrorist organization Hamas.”