US 'still convinced' Hamas used Al-Shifa Hospital as command center as Israeli raid continues

U.S. officials say intel confirms Hamas used the hospital as a control center.

November 16, 2023, 4:49 PM

As pressure grows on the Israeli military to justify its ongoing raid of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, the White House is standing behind its assertion that U.S. intelligence shows Hamas was using the complex to shield a key command center and carry out its military activities.

“We have our own intelligence that convinces us that Hamas was using Al-Shifa as a command-and-control node and most likely as well as a storage facility,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said on Thursday.

“They were sheltering themselves in a hospital, using the hospital as a shield against military action and placing the patients and medical staff at a greater risk,” he continued. “We are still convinced of the soundness of that intelligence.”

An Israeli officer points at equipment that he says was discovered in a bag at the Al Shifa hospital complex, amid the Israeli military's ground operation against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City, Nov. 15, 2023.
Israel Defense Forces via Reuters

Kirby declined to answer questions on whether Israel had shared any new intelligence with the U.S. gathered from its sweep of the hospital, which is now in its second day.

"I'm not going to talk about specific intelligence that may pass between the two of us," he said.

So far, the Israel Defense Forces have shared video and images showing a small number of assault rifles, grenades, other military equipment and Hamas uniforms it says were found inside the hospital but have not offered evidence to prove that it was used by Hamas as a command center. The terrorist group and staff at the hospital denied Hamas is using the hospital as a command center.

U.S. officials have also not shared any specific pieces of intelligence to support their assessment.

Israel and the U.S. have asserted a network of tunnels under Al-Shifa link the structure to other Hamas outposts -- something Israel’s raid has not demonstrated.

But officials and analysts say Israeli troops may still only be scratching the surface at this point.

“There is, as I understand it, an ongoing discussion about breaching deeper below ground and whether this would put troops in harm’s way in ways that the Israelis aren’t comfortable [with] yet,” said Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the senior vice president for research at the non-profit think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “We haven’t seen what lies deep beneath.”

Schanzer also stressed that while computers may not appear as menacing as massive stockpiles of weapons, they may hold evidence of Hamas’ activities -- potentially shedding light on the group’s coordination ahead of its Oct. 7 surprise terror attacks on Israel and connections to its financial sponsors.

A makeshift operating theater area is seen inside Al Shifa hospital during the Israeli ground operation around the hospital, in Gaza City, Nov. 12, 2023.
Ahmed El Mokhallalati via Reuters

Hospitals are generally protected by international humanitarian law, but they can become legitimate targets if used for military activities that are deemed “harmful to the enemy,” according to the Geneva Conventions.

"It is important to emphasize that from the moment the IDF publicly exposed the use of hospitals for terrorist activity a few weeks ago, Hamas has persistently worked to conceal infrastructure and cover up evidence,” one IDF official said. "This operation is complex and ongoing, with new information coming to light continuously."

The official also claimed the methodical pace of Israeli troops’ sweep through the hospital was shaped by Israel’s understanding that there is “well-hidden terrorist infrastructure” embedded inside the hospital and that the IDF had already uncovered advanced communication and military equipment, as well as “information and footage” related to the scores of hostages detained by Hamas and other militant groups.

An Israeli officer points at what he describes as a grab bag containing a rifle and other munitions belonging to a Hamas fighter that was discovered behind an MRI machine at the Al Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City, Nov. 15, 2023.
Israel Defense Forces via Reuters

The IDF announced in a statement on Thursday that it had uncovered the remains of a 65-year-old woman abducted on Oct. 7 in a structure near Al-Shifa, but it was not clear whether that discovery is linked to the ongoing operation inside the complex.

As Israeli troops' search presses on, the humanitarian conditions inside the hospital are growing even more dire, according to its director, Muhammad Abu Salamiya.

In a televised interview on Thursday, Abu Salamiya said that the hospital had run out of food and water, as well as supplemental oxygen for its patients.

Abu Salamiya also said that Al-Shifa’s staff, already overwhelmed with handling the bodies of the dead, were now prohibited from leaving the hospital and forced let the corpses pile up inside its walls.

"We are waiting for slow death," Abu Salamiya said.

ABC News' Becky Perlow and Nasser Atta contributed to this report.