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TOPSHOT – People gather amid the destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Gaza City on October 26, 2023, as battles continue between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo by Omar El-Qattaa / AFP) (Photo by OMAR EL-QATTAA/AFP via Getty Images)
Israel-Hamas: the view from Gaza

Israel-Hamas: the view from Gaza

TOPSHOT – People gather amid the destruction in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Gaza City on October 26, 2023, as battles continue between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (Photo by Omar El-Qattaa / AFP) (Photo by OMAR EL-QATTAA/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli forces claim to have found a tunnel shaft under Gaza’s al Shifa Hospital, but their claims of a vast Hamas tunnel complex remain unproven

Israeli soldiers combed Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital yesterday for a second day. The sprawling complex has become a symbol of the war: while there was broad Western support for Israel after Hamas fighters murdered more than 1,200 people on October 7th, that solidarity has started to fade in the face of the indescribable human suffering in Gaza.

After six weeks of war, future international backing for Israel may depend on whether it can prove that Hamas’s central command structure lies underneath Gaza’s largest hospital. The truth is heavily contested in the fog of war.

What we know:

  • After more than two days of searching, Israel said its soldiers had found a tunnel shaft in the al-Shifa complex late on Thursday. 
  • It released a video of the shaft with what appears to be al-Shifa in the background, but no verification was possible. 
  • The IDF also released photos and videos of “grab bags” containing about a dozen Kalashnikov assault weapons, several grenades, and body armour it claims to have found behind an MRI machine. Human Rights Watch has said these images are not sufficient for Israel to revoke the hospital’s protection. 
  • Israel said it had recovered two bodies of hostages in buildings near al-Shifa. Yehudit Weiss, a 65-year-old woman and Corporal Noa Marciano of the IDF were both taken hostage on 7 October. 
  • Earlier this week, the New York Times published an investigation showing that the hospital had been hit by a probable Israeli missile and an Israeli tank round. Videos shot by locals and posted on social media show dead and bloodied children strewn across the wreckage. 

By the numbers:

At least 11,470 – official Gazan death toll since 7 October, according to the Gazan health ministry, including 4707 children (it stopped reporting the death count more than a week ago but restarted this morning)

1 in 200 – proportion of people in Gaza who have been killed

8,000 – cancer patients in Gaza, most of whom will have been taken off their treatment

about 180 – women who give birth every day in Gaza, according to the WHO, about 15 per cent of whom develop complications and require procedures such as C-sections which are no longer available. 

Competing claims:

Israel. The Israeli military published a map on 27 October indicating that Hamas was operating four underground complexes underneath al-Shifa. Israel says the blame for the high death toll rests with Hamas for hiding behind civilians and using hospitals for military operations.  

Hamas. Spokespeople for Hamas deny the hospital was being used for military purposes and say the Israeli military planted weapons inside. 

The US. John Kirby, spokesperson for the US National Security Council, said this week the US “has information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them to conceal and support their military operations and to hold hostages”. However, unlike when Russia invaded Ukraine, the US has not shared its intelligence with journalists. 

The doctors. Hospital staff inside al-Shifa have denied the presence of Hamas. Dr Abdelkader Hammad, a surgeon at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital who recently returned from Gaza, said that he saw no signs that the building was a Hamas HQ. Doctors have however reported gunfire in and around the hospital. 

A photographer who once found beauty. Before the war, Motaz Alaaraj took pictures to show the “tenacity and beauty of Gazans, the colourful nature of his surroundings”. The images on his Instagram show horses on the beach, sunsets and house plants snaking up balconies. No longer. In a series of messages he described how his family moved south and now struggles to survive.

“All means of communication and the Internet were cut off, and I had to go to a far place to get a signal and correspond via an Egyptian network,” Motaz wrote.

“Day after day the conditions are getting worse and the weather is getting colder. We may have a little food enough for two or three days, but there is no electricity, no potable water, no communication, no fuel or gas for cooking, no suitable life for children or the elderly, pollution everywhere, severe crowding in In the southern regions, there are 12 displaced families in our house, and the number of individuals reaches 60 citizens.”

“Families are distributed according to males and females, each type in a separate place, and the children are accompanied by women. We try to feed the children only things that will keep them alive, such as dates, for example, or liquid milk, or biscuits, if available.”

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