Editor’s note: CNN reported from Gaza under IDF escort at all times, but did not send material for this report to the IDF and retained editorial control over the final report.
The Israeli military’s focus on Gaza hospitals is becoming more intense as its campaign to eliminate Hamas from the enclave enters its sixth week.
The IDF invited media to visit a children’s medical center on Monday, where a spokesperson alleged that parts of the basement had been a Hamas “command and control center” and could have been used to hold hostages.
A CNN crew embedded in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was shown weapons and explosives in a room located beneath the Al-Rantisi children’s hospital on Monday, which IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari called a “armory”.
He also pointed out a chair with a rope next to it and a piece of women’s clothing, which he said would be analyzed for DNA, and a makeshift bathroom.
Israel has repeatedly claimed that Hamas locates its operational bases in tunnels beneath hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. The access provided by the IDF on Monday was an effort to back up those claims, which are denied by Hamas as well as health and hospital officials in Gaza.
Concerns are growing that hospitals are now being targeted by military action. Heartbreaking images and stories from civilians inside continue to emerge, and doctors warn they cannot evacuate their most vulnerable patients.
Speaking by telephone to CNN on Tuesday, Mohammed Zarqout, head of all Gaza hospitals, said that the Al Rantisi basement had been used as a shelter for women and children, not to store Hamas weapons or hold hostages, in addition to being the location of the pharmacy and some of the hospital’s administrative offices before rainwater made their use “impossible.”
Zarqout also told CNN that Israeli soldiers had forced medical staff to leave the hospital and had not been able to take all the patients with them when they left.
CNN joined the Israeli military inside Gaza, but did not submit material for this report to the IDF and retained editorial control over the final report.
In a statement on Sunday, the IDF said it was allowing foot and ambulance passage to evacuate from three hospitals: Al-Shifa, Al-Rantisi and Nasser hospitals.
According to Hagari, Israeli troops had been conducting operations inside Al-Rantisi just hours before CNN’s visit. He added that a forensic team would soon test material left in the basement rooms to confirm any potential connection to the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas during its attack on Israel on October 7.
The IDF is also working to determine if there is a connection between an apparent nearby tunnel entrance and rooms beneath the hospital.
CNN was shown a well, about 200 meters from Al-Rantisi, which Hagari said was located next to the home of a Hamas commander and also a school.
Cables leading to the shaft supplied power to the tunnel from solar panels fixed to the roof of the Hamas commander’s house, he also said.
“Us [put] A robot inside the tunnel and the robot saw a huge door, a door that is in the direction of the hospital,” Hagari said.
Zarquot said that “the tunnel they claim to be a Hamas tunnel is actually an assembly point for electrical cables. “We raise the cables to avoid electric shocks caused by flooding.”
IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari inside Gaza
The CNN team witnessed enormous amounts of destruction on their way through Gaza with the Israeli army as they were taken to Al-Rantisi hospital.
Countless houses, high-rise apartment blocks, hotels and villas were destroyed. Bullet holes and shells were seen everywhere and the shooting continued.
Days of intense fighting near the enclave’s hospitals in recent days have led to what medical staff still working there describe as siege-like conditions.
While hospitals are protected in times of war under international humanitarian law, that protection may be compromised if they are believed to be sites of military activity. The World Health Organization has recorded at least 137 attacks on health facilities in Gaza, which it said resulted in 521 deaths and 686 injuries.
Other protected sites, such as schools, civilian shelters and United Nations facilities, have already been damaged or destroyed in more than a month of Israeli airstrikes. On Monday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees announced that more than 100 U.N. staff had been killed in Gaza since the fighting began, the most in United Nations history.
Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
Men walk along the Gaza border in southern Israel on November 13, 2023. Areas of the densely populated enclave have been subject to relentless Israeli bombing.
Orders by Israeli forces for hospitals to be evacuated or risk the danger of fighting as troops try to root out Hamas have drawn criticism from global health organizations and aid groups. A joint statement by the regional directors of UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Health Organization on Sunday called for “urgent international action to end ongoing attacks on hospitals in Gaza.”
“We are horrified by the latest reports of attacks on and around Al-Shifa Hospital, Al-Rantissi Naser Pediatric Hospital, Al-Quds Hospital and others in Gaza City and northern Gaza, killing many people. , including children. “Intense hostilities surrounding several hospitals in northern Gaza are preventing safe access to medical personnel, the wounded and other patients,” the statement read.
Doctors continue to refuse to leave Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest, as of Monday because they say they fear hundreds of patients will die if they are left behind. Israel has alleged that a Hamas center is hidden in the basement, a claim that hospital staff and Hamas have denied.
Thousands of civilians are believed to be taking shelter at the hospital and approximately 700 at-risk patients are receiving treatment there, according to Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, Director General of the Ministry of Health in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
“The problem is not the doctors, it’s the patients,” Al-Burish told CNN on Monday. “If they are left behind, they will die, and if they are transferred, they will die on the way, that is the problem.”