Israel says Gaza’s largest hospital a Hamas command center, Palestinians reject

In what appears to be a significant attempt to prepare public opinion ahead of a major ground offensive inside Gaza, the Israeli army has claimed that the besieged strip’s largest hospital, Al Shifa, is the site of a major Hamas command and control center. Palestinian groups have denied the claim.

Army spokesperson Daniel Hagari accused Hamas of directing rocket attacks and commanding Hamas operations from bunkers underneath the hospital building, which he said was linked to the network of tunnels that Hamas has dug underneath Gaza City.

He claimed other hospitals inside Gaza were also being used by Hamas in similar ways during a media presentation that included aerial photos, graphics and voice recordings,

“When medical facilities are used for terror purposes, they are liable to lose their protection from attack in accordance with international law,” Hagari added, appearing to suggest such hospitals were now firmly and publicly on Israel’s target list.

The army would “continue making efforts to minimize harm to the civilian population,” he continued.

Hagari offered only one piece of evidence at the presentation: a phone call purporting to be between two Gazans discussing the presence of Hamas’ headquarters at the hospital.

He stated Israel had more evidence that he could not yet make public, but which had been shared with what he called the intelligence community, which had accepted Israel’s allegations, he said.

Palestinians rejected the Israeli army claim.

The Director General of the Gaza Health Ministry, Dr. Medhat Abbas, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos that Gaza’s hospitals, “are used to treat patients only” and are not being used “to hide anyone.”

Hamas also rejected the claim, calling on “the United Nations, Arab and Islamic countries to immediately intervene to stop the madness of bombing and destroying the medical system.”

Mustafa Barghouti of the Palestine National Initiative based in Ramallah stressed Israel was lying.

“They keep lying to justify criminal acts against a civilian population, now they want to justify attacking people in a hospital” he told Sky News.

And Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian physician who has worked at the hospital on several occasions, including during three periods of open hostilities between Hamas and Israel, called the allegations “old.”

“We heard these unsubstantiated claims during the 2009 and 2014 attacks. We have never seen any single sign or proof, we’ve had zero restrictions on filming and photographing in Shifa, and have never been controlled in any ways,” he told CNN.

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