The Israeli military was solidifying its hold on the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital on Wednesday, after storming the complex overnight. Soldiers were conducting searches and interrogations inside, and Israeli officers said they had found rifles, ammunition, body armor and other military equipment in a radiology building.
In a video filmed at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, showed about 10 guns, ammunition, protective vests and Hamas military uniforms, some of which he said were hidden behind M.R.I. machines, others in nearby storage units and some behind what he described as a “blast-proof door.” The assertions made in the video could not be independently verified.
Hamas, which has repeatedly denied using the hospital for military operations, issued a statement calling the Israeli claims “a fabricated story that no one would believe.” A Hamas official, Bassem Naim, speaking to Al Jazeera, dismissed the video as falsified “theatrics.”
Al-Shifa Hospital has become central to Israel’s 40-day effort to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas, and its capture by Israel was a significant step that could shape the pace and extent of its war with Hamas. Israel maintains that Hamas built a military command center at the hospital, using its patients and staff as human shields.
The seizure of Al-Shifa, along with whatever evidence the Israelis produce of Hamas’s military presence there, could affect international sentiment about the invasion as well as the continuing negotiations to free the hostages captured by Hamas last month. Gazan authorities said Wednesday that the Israelis were in control of the complex.
Israeli soldiers briefly exchanged fire with gunmen outside the hospital before going in, a senior military official said, but more than 12 hours after it began, the operation appeared more like a police raid than a pitched battle.
One senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing operation, said that troops were interrogating people inside the hospital and had found weapons, but declined to provide evidence or further details.
A Palestinian man inside a surgery building at the hospital complex said word had spread among the people there of interrogations and searches, including excavations, and that a tight cordon of Israeli armored vehicles had closed around the hospital.
Little information was available on Wednesday afternoon, as communications were disrupted in Gaza City.
Palestinian officials, the heads of United Nations agencies and some Mideast regional leaders condemned the raid, warning that it risked the lives of Gaza’s most vulnerable.
For years, Israel has said that Hamas built a military command center beneath the hospital, turning its patients into human shields.
To Palestinians, Al-Shifa Hospital is a civilian institution that for weeks has served as a refuge for thousands of displaced Gazans in addition to the gravely ill and wounded. Hamas and the hospital’s leadership deny its use as a military base.
The Israeli military invaded Gaza last month after roughly 1,200 people were killed in Hamas-led attacks on Israel on Oct. 7. Since then, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to Gazan health officials — one of the largest tolls in any air campaign this century.
The Hamas-run government media office in Gaza said in a statement that the Israeli soldiers had beaten patients and displaced people sheltering at the hospital and had expelled others from the complex.
Muhammad Zaqout, a senior health Gazan official, said in a news briefing that the Israeli soldiers had first entered part of a surgery department before later taking control of the radiology and cardiology departments.
Because of the communications disruption, The New York Times could not reach hospital administrators. The Palestinian man interviewed by telephone in the surgery building at the hospital said he had not heard of anyone being beaten.
Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Ibillin, Israel.