Israel is pressing its argument that Hamas is using hospitals as cover, releasing a pair of videos from inside Gaza’s main children’s hospital that showed weapons and explosives allegedly found in the medical center, and a room where the military says they were held hostage.
While the Hamas-led Gaza Health Ministry on Tuesday disputed almost all claims made in the initial Israeli video, it acknowledged that the footage was taken from inside Al-Rantisi Specialized Children’s Hospital in northern Gaza. The remaining patients and staff are believed to have left the hospital over the weekend after it was surrounded by Israeli forces.
U.S. intelligence supports the Israeli allegation that Hamas operates in and beneath hospitals, a National Security Council spokesman said Tuesday.
Israeli troops moved in soon after and recorded videos that the military released on Monday and Tuesday as part of a campaign to persuade skeptics that Hamas had turned hospitals into safe houses and command centers and built tunnels beneath them.
“This is not the last hospital like this in Gaza, and the world should know that,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman. “It’s a crime”.
In the first of the videos, a six-minute presentation posted Monday, Admiral Hagari walks viewers through what he says was found in the hospital’s basement. The Israeli military followed this up on Tuesday with a second video, just over two minutes long, published on X, formerly Twitter. That video purports to show troops running into the building and appearing to find explosives, weapons and the room where Admiral Hagari said the hostages were being held.
Both videos contained a number of claims that could not be independently verified. The first includes well-displayed evidence (guns, explosives and other weapons, all arranged as if done by the police showing the loot from an anti-drug raid) whose provenance also could not be confirmed.
The second, however, shows troops in action who appear to find the weaponry that would be shown in the longer video.
Hamas spokesman Osama Hamadan, speaking at a news conference from Beirut on Tuesday, called Admiral Hagari’s presentation a “lie and farce.” There was no immediate comment from Gaza or Hamas officials on the second video.
Monday’s video included footage of a piece of paper taped to a wall in the hospital’s basement. Admiral Hagari said the document (a grid with Arabic words and numbers inside each square) could be a schedule for guarding the hostages “where each terrorist writes his name.”
The document included a mark that appeared to be an illegible signature, but did not appear to include the people’s names: the Arabic words were days of the week and numbers below the dates. Gaza’s Health Ministry said in a statement that the document, including days and dates, was nothing more than “a regular work shift schedule, a standard administrative practice in hospitals.”
However, the ministry did not address a key detail: The calendar begins on October 7, the day of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, and an Arabic title written at the top uses the militants’ name for the attack: “Al Aqsa Battle against floods, 7/10/2023.”
Dr. Mustafa Al Kahlout, director of the hospital, said on Tuesday that families fleeing Israeli bombing have sought refuge in Al-Rantisi and other Gaza hospitals. He called on the Red Cross and other international organizations to “inspect all hospitals.”
The video released Monday by the Israeli military begins with Admiral Hagari standing a few hundred meters from Al-Rantisi. Speaking in English, he points out what he says is the house of a senior Hamas leader, a school next door, and a pile of rubble under which is the entrance to a tunnel that supposedly runs to the hospital.
The video then shows Admiral Hagari inside what he says is the basement of the hospital. He enters a room with children’s drawings on blue and pink walls. Carefully arranged on the floor are a series of weapons that he says were found in the hospital.
Admiral Hagari then shows what he says is an area connected to the basement of the hospital where the hostages taken in the October 7 attack were supposedly being held.
There is a windowless room with couches and curtains covering the bare walls where he says hostage videos could be recorded. Next to it there is a chair with a rope on the floor, a “makeshift bathroom”, a bottle and a package of diapers. There is also a motorcycle that he claims was used to transport hostages back to Gaza.
“You don’t build a makeshift bathroom in the basement unless you want to build infrastructure to hold hostages,” says Admiral Hagari.
As for what happened to the hostages and Hamas fighters who were supposedly in the hospital, he says: “They may have left with the patients, they may have fled through tunnels and we have signs that they had hostages with them.” . “It is still under investigation, but there are enough signs that indicate it.”
For its part, the Gaza Health Ministry said the basements shown were used as shelters “for those fleeing airstrikes. The bathroom shown is a necessity.”
Bottle and diapers were nothing special in a children’s hospital, he said. Regarding the weapons, he added: “We don’t know where they got them from.”