The Israeli military said early Wednesday that its troops were carrying out “a precise and targeted operation” at Gaza’s largest hospital, a complex of buildings where thousands of Palestinian refugees had taken shelter, as part of the campaign “to defeat Hamas and rescue our hostages.”
The statement came a day after Israel, facing an international outcry over the increasingly grim conditions at besieged hospitals in the Gaza Strip, sought to bolster its case for further military action by releasing a video of what it said were weapons inside a children’s hospital in Gaza and accounts of sexual violence and other atrocities committed by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attacks.
A spokesman for Gaza’s Ministry of Health told Al Aqsa TV just before the raid that the Israeli military had warned that an operation at the main hospital complex in Gaza City, Al-Shifa, was imminent.
The Israel Defense Forces also posted a statement about its operation on social media on Wednesday. But it remained unclear how many troops were involved in the assault. In the statement, the Israeli military said that the aim of the raid was not to harm civilians, and the force that went into the hospital included medical teams and Arabic speakers.
“Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the civilians in Gaza,” the announcement said. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, spokesman for the Israeli military, said on social media that the military would transfer incubators, medical equipment and baby food to the hospital. He claimed that, before the raid, Israel had tried evacuate the hospital’s patients and the people who had taken shelter there, creating a safe route for them to leave.
The New York Times was unable to reach the hospital director or the spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry to ask about Israel’s offer, the details of which remained unclear.
In a statement, Hamas said it was holding the Israeli army and President Biden “fully responsible” for the raid. It said the White House had given Israel “a green light” for the raid on Tuesday when a spokesman said American intelligence agencies supported Israel’s conclusion that Hamas uses hospitals for military purposes.
The White House did not immediately respond to Hamas’s statement.
Israel asserts that Hamas has dug a network of tunnels beneath Gaza’s hospitals, using the patients and workers inside them as human shields for its command centers and safe houses. Hamas and hospital officials have denied the accusations.
The White House on Tuesday supported Israel’s description of Hamas’s use of hospitals, though it declined to provide specific details. “We have 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 to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” the spokesman for the National Security Council, John F. Kirby, told reporters.
“We do not support striking a hospital from the air,” he added. “And we do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve.”
To convince skeptics of its claim, Israel released videos on Monday and Tuesday from inside Gaza’s main children’s hospital showing what it said were weapons and explosives found there, and a room where, the military said, hostages had been kept.
“This is not the last hospital like this in Gaza, and the world should know that,” said Admiral Hagari. “It’s a crime.”
Israel released the videos after weeks in which protesters, for and against the military campaign, have demonstrated around the world and as the United Nations, aid groups and many countries have criticized Israel, called for a cease-fire and warned of calamity at the hospitals. In recent days, Mr. Biden has also urged Israel to use restraint around medical centers, saying, “Hospitals must be protected.”