Israel said on Wednesday that in November it had dismantled a tunnel below Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the medical facility that Israel and allies have said Hamas used as a shield for a vast underground militia complex.
The 250-meter tunnel, about 273 yards, was dismantled without damaging the hospital, the Israeli military said in a statement. The tunnel “led to a number of significant terrorist centers and was used for carrying out terrorist operations,” the military said.
The hospital was the site of an Israeli operation in November to seize control of the facility, drawing international scrutiny and condemnation. It was one of the few remaining medical facilities still operating as thousands of Gazans were killed and injured in Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion. Israel said it was being used by Hamas as a military site, and to hold hostages.
Israel has long said that Hamas, which led an incursion into Israel on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,200 people, uses hospitals and other civilian facilities to hide fighters and weapons. Hamas also maintains a vast network of underground tunnels and facilities to move freely and plan terror attacks. A Hamas-built facility under the hospital, which Israel had described as a key command post, made it a legitimate military target, Israeli officials argued.
Since its raid on the hospital, Israeli officials have presented what they say is evidence that Hamas used the hospital as a military facility, including the discovery of weapons, underground bunkers and, nearby, the body of an Israeli soldier taken hostage on Oct. 7.
Gazan health officials have denied the hospital’s use by Hamas, saying that it has only served as a medical facility. When Israeli troops raided the hospital, hundreds of patients were evacuated and thousands of Gazans, who had been displaced from their homes by Israel’s bombing campaign and had sought refuge on the hospital’s grounds, were forced to flee again.
On Tuesday, newly declassified American intelligence revealed that U.S. spy agencies believe Hamas and another Palestinian group used the hospital to command forces and hold some hostages. A senior intelligence official said American intelligence agencies obtained information that Hamas fighters had evacuated the complex days before the hospital operation, and that the assessment remains firm despite questions from some news organizations about Hamas’s presence there.
Israel has been criticized for failing to produce evidence of specific claims made in the lead-up to the raid on the hospital, including that it would discover a sophisticated underground command center and access points to the tunnel from inside the hospital’s wards. Israel did not provide evidence to back those specific claims, because, the military said, it was unable to fully excavate the tunnel because it was booby-trapped.
Images released by the Israeli military clearly show extensive tunnels, but not how they were used.