The Boston Globe

Inside the ruins of Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital after all-out fight

- By William Booth and Lorenzo Tugnoli

GAZA CITY — Gaza’s largest hospital has been gutted. Combat bulldozers moved sand into the courtyards. The buildings are scorched. It smells like death. Israeli commandos pulled out before dawn on Monday.

A sprawling medical campus that housed maternity wards, surgery suites, and emergency rooms has been mostly destroyed after two weeks of intense assault by Israeli troops battling Hamas militants who, Israel said, were barricadin­g themselves inside the complex.

Spokesmen for the Israel Defense Forces brought a handful of foreign journalist­s into the compound Sunday afternoon, just hours before the last special forces troops withdrew.

The IDF offered a narrow view, but what we saw was destructio­n on a massive scale. Military censors did not review our words or photos.

It is hard to overstate the importance of al-Shifa, where the dueling narratives of this war have converged.

The hospital has served as a beacon of refuge and resilience for Palestinia­ns. The Israelis described it as a mustering point and command center for terrorists who used the doctors and patients as human shields.

The staff who have toiled at al-Shifa said they just wanted to care for the sick and wounded. “We are doctors: Our job is to treat people. We have nothing to do with this,” said Amr Fawzi Jedbah, a 31-year-old vascular surgeon, who spoke to the Post in the early days of the raid.

From the windowless armored personnel carriers that brought the reporters to the site, the first view was sand, and, for a moment, there was silence. Gaza City, more rubble now than city, was quiet.

Then the sound of smallarms fire.

The compound smelled of bodies. And rot. Dozens of fighters had been killed, the IDF said, but said it could not provide a precise count. Some desperatel­y ill patients had been evacuated; others, aid groups said, died during the siege.

Before this second offensive against al-Shifa, the hospital was functionin­g, if just barely, after a first raid by Israel soldiers in November. When the March assault began two weeks ago, there were 6,000 people sheltering on the grounds, according to the IDF — patients, medical staff, and displaced families.

On Sunday, not one Palestinia­n was seen by the journalist­s, although many returned to the site on Monday.

In the central quad, new sand dunes had been shaped by bulldozers. Israeli armor and personnel carriers encircled the complex; troops moved quickly from spot to spot.

We were told that Palestinia­n snipers remained in the area and that a handful of Hamas operatives might still be moving around the hospital buildings, based on night-vision sweeps of the compound.

We saw only Israeli soldiers. In one darkened room, a platoon of commandos slept on the floor beside hallways strewn with trash.

There were sporadic bursts of automatic rifle fire in the distance. It was unclear who was shooting, or at what.

The Israeli special forces described close-quarter combat with desperate fighters from Hamas who had been taken by surprise and barricaded themselves in emptied hospital wards, including elevator shafts and operating rooms.

The Israelis said two Palestinia­n

militants, in confrontat­ions, used grenades to kill themselves in what would be the first reported suicide bombings of this latest Gaza war. This could not be confirmed.

The journalist­s were hustled into a mid-rise medical office building seized by Israeli navy special forces to the top floors to see the destructio­n below.

All of the main structures of al-Shifa were blasted and blackened, walls missing, shards of cement flooring pulling against twisted rebar.

These buildings were not pancaked by big bombs, but targeted by Israel’s air force strikes, artillery fire, and small arms. The building that housed the Israeli commandos was also was pocked by bullet holes and shattered glass.

What the Israeli military described at the outset as a “precise operation” looked more like all-out urban warfare.

The journalist­s were not given access to the last 140 Palestinia­ns — staff and patients — that the IDF said were sheltering in a nearby building, waiting to be evacuated. The rest of the civilians had already been sent to other medical facilities, the military said, or were told to head south.

 ?? AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? A Palestinia­n woman sat amid the rubble of Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital after the Israeli military withdrew Monday.
AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES A Palestinia­n woman sat amid the rubble of Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital after the Israeli military withdrew Monday.

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