The Israeli military has maintained throughout the conflict that Hamas hides in tunnels under Gaza hospitals, including Al-Shifa. The White House on Tuesday said its own intelligence also confirmed that Hamas was using Al-Shifa hospital to conceal military operations.
The IDF said that prior to entering the hospital complex, its troops encountered what it described as explosive devices and terrorist cells, though it did not offer any further details or specify where this occurred.
“An engagement began in which terrorists were killed,” it said.
NBC News was not able to independently verify those claims.
In a statement, Hamas condemned what it called the “aggressive incursion into Al-Shifa.”
“The medical personnel and the multitude of internally displaced people now face the barbaric assault on a health facility safeguarded by the Fourth Geneva Convention,” it said.
In a later statement Hamas said that Israeli soldiers “began storming the medical buildings” at the complex “and began shooting and sweeping.”
“They began to wreak havoc inside it, calling on the medical teams to They also spread fear among the wounded, sick and displaced, and more than one explosion sound was heard inside,” the statement said.
Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a plastic surgeon at Al-Shifa, told Reuters on Wednesday that the night before, a tank had entered “within the hospital from the eastern main gate,” and then parts of the hospital were targeted “directly,” including the outpatient department and the fourth floor of the main building.
“Yesterday early evening they started, you know, really aggressive bombardment and shooting around the hospital and within the hospital,” he said.
El Mokhallalati said a patient’s room was hit, leaving a hole in the wall, but “thankfully no one got injured.”
“We don’t know what to do,” he added, explaining that those within the hospital were unable to move between buildings. “It’s a totally scary situation,” he said.
The doctor called the IDF’s claims that Hamas is headquartered at Al-Shifa a “big lie.”
El Mokhallalati did not immediately respond to calls from NBC News on Wednesday.
Video from the Palestinian Health Ministry, shared by Reuters, shows what it says is a doctor inside Al-Shifa describing damage to the hospital’s intensive care unit.
The doctor, who is not named, says the ICU was struck at dawn, forcing medical workers to take patients, including children, into the corridors of the department for their safety. The doctor said the patients’ lives were at risk because of the move. NBC News was not able to independently verify the video.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a post on X that the “reports of military incursion into Al-Shifa hospital are deeply concerning,” and that he was extremely worried about the safety of health workers and patients there.
John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said before Israel’s incursion was announced that U.S. leaders “do not support striking a hospital from the air, and we do not want to see a firefight in the hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve.”
Until Tuesday night, the IDF had acknowledged it was involved in “intense” fighting around the hospital, but this appears to be the first time troops have entered the facility.
As Israeli soldiers launched their operation at Al-Shifa, the IDF said incubators, baby food and medical supplies had been delivered to the hospital using tanks. The military shared images on X showing boxes labeled as “medical supplies” and “baby food.”
It said the forces involved in the Al-Shifa mission included medical teams and Arabic speakers with “specified training to prepare for this complex and sensitive environment.” Forces had no “intent” of causing harm to civilians, it added.
El Mokhallalati told Reuters that he feared what might happen to patients if they are forced to leave the hospital.
“We are happy that we are staying within the hospital committed and dedicated to help our patients,” he said. “I am really afraid that they will evacuate the hospital in a way — they will just throw the patients here and there, without giving them the basic right or chance to get the treatment.”