Israeli Forces Conduct Raid on Gaza City Hospital; U.S. Confirms Death of High-ranking Hamas Leader

Israeli Forces Conduct Raid on Gaza City Hospital; U.S. Confirms Death of High-ranking Hamas Leader

JERUSALEM — Israel’s army said Monday it had killed a Hamas official inside Gaza City’s al-Shifa medical complex, an operation that unfolded as experts warned that the northern part of the enclave may already be in the grip of famine.

The White House, meanwhile, confirmed that Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of the Hamas’s military wing, was killed in an Israeli strike earlier this month in central Gaza.

The highest-ranking militant commander to be killed in more than five months of war, Issa was believed by Israel to have played a central role in Hamas’s day-to-day military operations and to have helped plan its attack on Oct. 7.

“The rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday. “And justice will come for them, too.”

The news of Issa’s death was overshadowed by the operation at al-Shifa — the latest Israeli attack on hospitals, which the IDF has said are used by Hamas as a cover for military activities. The assaults have damaged or shuttered a number of major medical facilities and, according to humanitarian groups, put Gaza’s health system on the verge of collapse.

Israel’s claims about the military significance of the operation at al-Shifa were swiftly contested by Palestinian officials, who identified the target of the raid as a police official. Civilians in the hospital said they were trapped by the fighting.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the raid had “eliminated” Faiq Mabhouh, a senior official within Hamas’s Internal Security division who was responsible for coordinating the group’s militant activities across the Gaza Strip. The Hamas-run al-Aqsa network said that Mabhouh was a director of police operations who coordinated and protected aid deliveries. The Washington Post could not independently confirm his role.

Overall, 20 militants were killed in “various engagements” around the hospital, the IDF said, adding that money and weapons had been recovered from one of the buildings.

Once the enclave’s largest hospital, al-Shifa had “only recently restored minimal health services” after an Israeli raid on the facility in mid-November, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, posted Monday on X. “Hospitals must be protected,” he said, warning that fighting was “endangering health workers, patients and civilians.”

In going after Mabhouh, Israel appeared to continue a pattern of attacks on members of Gaza’s police force. Civil servants under Hamas’s prewar government, police officers played a key role guarding international aid convoys until last month, when Israel began targeting them.

The subsequent withdrawal of police from the aid delivery process, according to humanitarian groups and U.S. officials, left convoys open to looting by desperate civilians and criminal gangs, and made it nearly impossible to get assistance to starving families in the north.

Israel asserts that all Hamas members are legitimate military targets. Last week, the IDF struck a U.N. food distribution center in Rafah, in the south, killing a U.N. staffer and injuring more than 20. Israel said the attack killed a Hamas commander; Hamas described the dead man as the deputy head of police operations in Rafah.

The Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, says more than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military campaign to end Hamas rule — launched after the militant group led an ambush on Israeli border communities on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostages. The IDF estimates it has killed between 11,500 and 13,000 militants.

Civilians across the enclave, particularly the estimated 300,000 people trapped in the north, are struggling to survive. On Monday, a U.N.-backed report said that famine may already have reached the northern region, and that more than half of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents were facing catastrophic levels of hunger.

“Starvation is used as a weapon of war,” said Josep Borrell, the European Union’s most senior foreign policy official Monday. “Let’s dare to say by whom. By the one that prevents humanitarian support entering into Gaza.”

Israel denies that it is limiting the flow of aid into Gaza, blaming the U.N. for failing to distribute aid and Hamas militants for diverting it from those in need.

The Biden administration has continued to supply its closest Middle Eastern ally with weapons and diplomatic support, even as it urges the Israeli military to do more to limit the bloodshed and allow aid to flow freely.

Amid growing strain in their relationship, Biden spoke Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since Feb. 15. According to Sullivan, Biden told Netanyahu he was “deeply concerned” with Israel’s plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, where some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge.

But he also backed the latest Israeli raid on al-Shifa: “Israel states that it was going after senior Hamas commanders and Hamas militants, and it is clear that Hamas fired back at Israel from that hospital,” he said.

While much about what transpired inside the hospital remained unclear, videos posted online and verified by The Post provided clues about how the raid unfolded outside. In a video posted to X at 9:38 a.m. Monday in Gaza, at least two tanks are visible on al-Qassam Road, directly outside the southeastern gates of al-Shifa, the hospital’s primary entrance. The video is filmed overlooking the complex’s courtyard, around which several of its key medical buildings are located.

A military bulldozer is shown tearing up the pavement of the courtyard in another video posted to X at 12:43 p.m. local time, filmed near the emergency unit building.

A third video, posted later Monday, appeared to show about half of the courtyard had been bulldozed. Several vehicles, including at least two ambulances visible in the earlier footage, appear to have been destroyed, mashed together in a heap of soil, cars and pavement.

Reached by phone inside the hospital, Duaa, 43, told The Post she was among a large group of people who had been trapped in the facility’s waiting room since late Sunday night. She spoke on the condition she be identified by her first name, fearing reprisals for speaking to the media.

“No one can come in and out,” she said. “There is no one who is armed or a terrorist. We are all innocent and civilians.”

One of Duaa’s sons was hospitalized in al-Shifa after a leg amputation, she said. She was a single mom — her husband was killed early in the war, she said — and was desperate to get him better treatment and a prosthetic leg. Those gathered inside the hospital had little to no access to food, water or bathrooms for hours on end, she said.

Another patient at the hospital, Mohammed Hassan, 29, also reached by Duaa’s phone, said that loud noises had startled the patients there Sunday evening.

“They closed the doors and we don’t know anything,” he said. “We just hear the sound of gunfire and shelling.”

The IDF described the raid as a “precise operation,” targeting IDF senior Hamas militants that had “regrouped inside al-Shifa Hospital and are using it to command attacks against Israel,” according to spokesman Daniel Hagari.

But the role of Faiq Mabhouh, the only named target, was shrouded in conflicting claims.

He was the brother of former Hamas military commander Mahmoud Mabhouh, who was assassinated in Dubai in 2010, according to Michael Milshtein, a former head of the Palestinian division of Israeli military intelligence. Unlike his brother, Mabhouh had been an important figure in upholding law and order in the enclave, Milshtein said, and his death would have a limited impact on the “military capabilities of Hamas.”

Senior police officials often wear “double hats” and are involved with the military wing, he said, but added that Mabhouh’s role in the police was likely enough to make him a target for Israel. “He represents Hamas and he’s a senior figure,” he said. “This was the main problem.”

Gaza’s Civil Defense spokesman Mahmoud Bassal also linked Mabhouh to the aid apparatus serving north Gaza, calling him “the Director of Operations at the Ministry of Interior and the coordinator of aid operations with other agencies such as UNRWA and the tribes.” But UNRWA denied having any connection to Mabhouh.

The IDF said late Monday that 200 “terror suspects” had been arrested for questioning inside al-Shifa and that the operation was ongoing.

An Al Jazeera correspondent, Ismail Alghoul, was among a number of journalists detained at the scene, the network said. The Qatari-owned network said that Alghoul was released after 12 hours, during which time he was beaten and his recording equipment was destroyed. The IDF said it was looking into the claims.

Loveluck and Harb reported from London. Loveday Morris in Berlin, Jarrett Ley in New York, Hazem Balousha in Amman, Jordan, and Cate Brown in Washington contributed to this report.

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