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Israeli Army Withdraws From Major Gaza Hospital, Leaving Behind a Wasteland

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza Metropolis, as soon as the fulcrum of Gaza’s well being system and now an emblem of its destruction, stood in ruins on Sunday, as if a tsunami had surged by way of it adopted by a twister.

The emergency division was a tidy, off-white constructing till Israeli troops returned there in March. Two weeks later, it was lacking most of its facade, scorched with soot, and punctured with a whole lot of bullets and shells.

The jap flooring of the surgical procedure division have been left open to the breeze, the partitions blown off and the gear buried below mounds of particles. The bridge connecting the 2 buildings was not there, and the plaza between them — previously a round driveway wrapping round a gazebo — had been churned by Israeli armored autos right into a wasteland of uprooted timber, upturned automobiles and a half-crushed ambulance.

The hospital was the most important in Gaza, considered one of its greatest employers and a shelter for hundreds of Gazans throughout conflict. I had visited its wards in calmer instances, assembly Palestinians wounded in a earlier battle and docs battling Covid-19. After I returned this week, the place was disfigured virtually past recognition after a 12-day battle between Israeli troopers and Gazan gunmen and an earlier raid by the Israeli navy.

Throughout a two-hour go to, I noticed no Palestinians, however the Israeli troopers who introduced me there mentioned there have been nonetheless gunmen inside one constructing and a bunch of sufferers and docs in one other. Sometimes, we heard quick bursts of gunfire. When the troopers introduced us to a vantage level overlooking the hospital, they informed us to not linger lengthy within the window in case a sniper noticed us.

The symbolism of this hellscape differs in keeping with the beholder, amid a deep divergence about how the battle ought to be reported and defined.

To the Israelis who introduced me to Al-Shifa on Sunday, the carnage is the results of Hamas’s choice to show a civilian establishment right into a navy stronghold, leaving Israel with no choice however to enter it by pressure: Exhibit A in what they see as a conflict of necessity that they didn’t begin.

“We had no different,” mentioned Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief navy spokesman, who led the go to. “We wished to depart these locations useful, however what occurred was Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been barricading and firing at our forces from the start.”

To the Palestinians who returned to Al-Shifa on Monday, trying to find useless our bodies after the Israelis withdrew, it was the embodiment of Israel’s perceived disregard for civilian life and infrastructure in its pursuit of Hamas: Exhibit A in what they see as a genocide of Gazans.

“As you see, that is Al-Shifa hospital after it was invaded and destroyed by the Israeli occupation forces,” mentioned Motasem Dalloul, a Palestinian journalist, in a self-filmed video he despatched from the wreckage on Monday.

“Or what was as soon as Al-Shifa Hospital,” added Mr. Dalloul.

Once we met earlier than the conflict, Mr. Dalloul mentioned that he’s not a Hamas member however speaks commonly to its leaders and cadres; he has additionally acted as an interpreter for its officers.

Strolling additional by way of the compound, Mr. Dalloul encountered one other man who blamed Israel for the destruction. “This occupation will die, Netanyahu will die, America will die — irrespective of how a lot they bomb us,” the unnamed man shouted. “Irrespective of how a lot they bomb us and destroy Al-Shifa, the occupation will die,” he repeated.

Analysts have mentioned that Israel’s return to Al-Shifa, greater than 4 months after it was first captured, represents a strategic failure: It’s the results of Israel’s unwillingness to set in movement any transition of energy to forces unbiased of Hamas, making a vacuum that has allowed Hamas to regroup.

The Israeli troopers at Al-Shifa on Sunday portrayed the raid as a hit. In a single swoop, they mentioned, that they had killed about 200 fighters and captured 500 extra — the bulk, they mentioned, of the remaining militants in northern Gaza. Gazan officers mentioned a whole lot of civilians have been killed, a cost denied by Israel, and The New York Occasions couldn’t independently confirm both account.

In any case, the troopers’ departure, hours later, means it is going to be doable for Hamas to return as soon as once more, unimpeded, elevating the probabilities that Israel might return for a 3rd raid sooner or later.

The Israeli navy first captured the hospital website throughout a raid in November, exposing and destroying a subterranean tunnel network that Israel mentioned was a Hamas command middle.

After withdrawing from many of the metropolis in January, the navy returned to the hospital in March as a result of it mentioned remnants of Hamas’s navy wing had regrouped in Israel’s absence, in keeping with the officers who have been escorting the worldwide journalists, together with two from The New York Occasions, to the location on Sunday.

To hitch the tour, we agreed to not {photograph} the faces of sure commandos and to stick with the Israeli forces always, however in any other case agreed to no different restrictions.`

Israel’s naval commando unit, Shayetet 13, swept into the hospital compound early on March 18. By Israel’s account, the destruction started after Hamas gunmen refused to give up and began taking pictures on the Israeli forces, prompting them to return fireplace.

A spokesman for Hamas, Basem Naim, declined to touch upon the declare that Hamas was working contained in the hospital however denied that its fighters have been there; Hamas’s armed wing has mentioned that it fired on Israeli forces within the neighborhood of Al-Shifa, however stopped in need of saying that it fought contained in the compound.

The Israeli navy mentioned that one of many first males killed on March 18 was a safety chief, Faiq Mabhouh, whose demise was later mourned in a press release from Hamas. A map provided by the Israeli navy mentioned there have been not less than 13 gunfights that broke out throughout totally different elements of the campus over the next two weeks, because the troopers looked for holdouts hiding all through the location.

The navy mentioned the harm to the emergency and surgical procedure departments was so nice as a result of the gunmen had entrenched themselves inside these buildings, considered one of them inside an elevator shaft, forcing the Israeli commandos to fireside repeatedly at their positions. The navy mentioned that it discovered a number of weapons caches hidden contained in the hospital.

The navy mentioned the combating was compounded by Gazan armed teams situated outdoors the compound who additionally fired at Israeli troopers, resulting in gun battles round its perimeter and the killing of two Israeli troopers outdoors the hospital. Hamas mentioned on its social media platforms that its snipers and mortar groups had fired at Israeli forces within the neighborhood of the hospital.

To help its declare of Hamas’s presence on the hospital, the Israeli navy displayed digital copies of paperwork, branded with the emblem of Hamas’s navy wing, that it mentioned have been discovered on the website and which presupposed to doc a gathering of the group’s militants contained in the hospital. The Occasions couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the paperwork.

The Hamas-run authorities in Gaza have accused Israel of killing sufferers and displaced folks sheltering on the hospital, as properly detaining harmless folks.

Yahia Al-Kayyali, a 58-year-old physician, mentioned he was detained by the Israeli Military through the raid whereas sheltering together with his household at a constructing near the hospital.

In a telephone interview, Dr. Al-Kayyali mentioned the troopers compelled him to strip, a standard follow that Israel says is supposed to make sure detainees don’t conceal weapons, earlier than beating him and his son, interrogating and blindfolding them, taking them to the roof and forcing them to sit down on shattered glass for a number of hours.

They have been later launched after being made to stroll south, he mentioned.

“The troopers handled us like animals,” he mentioned.

The Israeli troopers who escorted us on Sunday strongly denied any accusation of wrongdoing. They mentioned that they had evacuated greater than half of the medics and sufferers to different well being services, in addition to permitting the overwhelming majority of the 6,000 civilians who had sheltered on the hospital to maneuver south. They mentioned that they had detained 900 folks, 500 of whom they mentioned have been militants and about 400 others who have been nonetheless being investigated. The numbers couldn’t be independently verified.

“I’ve been right here for 14 days,” mentioned the Shayetet 13 commander, who requested to stay nameless in step with navy protocol. “It’s my troopers. So far as I do know, these accusations are a lie.”

In response to each Israeli and Palestinian officers, greater than 100 sufferers and medics have been moved to a constructing on the western facet of the compound, away from the worst of the combating.

However there the narratives diverge. The Israeli navy says that it did its finest to supply meals, water and medical care. The Gazan well being ministry mentioned in a press release that the remaining sufferers have been left with out sufficient medication, clear water, meals or sanitation, leaving some with septic wounds containing maggots.

“The scenario as reported by lots of the employees is horrific and inhumane,” the well being ministry’s assertion mentioned.

Citing Palestinian medics, the World Well being Group mentioned in a press release on Sunday that 21 sufferers had died because the raid started, and people remaining lacked diapers and baggage for urine.

To Taysir al-Tanna, a surgeon who mentioned he had labored for 25 years at Al-Shifa, the destruction of his hospital felt like a nationwide tragedy.

He recounted by telephone how the hospital — considered one of largest employers in each Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution — had shaped “a central place in our nation.”

“Now, it’s change into a wasteland,” Dr. al-Tanna mentioned. “Attempt to think about what that seems like.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Iyad Abuhweila from Istanbul.

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