Neither Israel nor the U.S. have put forth concrete evidence that Hamas set up its headquarters under al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest medical facility.
Screenshot of Joe Biden at the press conference, November 16
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday repeated the Israeli government’s claim that Hamas located its headquarters under Gaza’s largest hospital but refused to provide any evidence when pressed by a reporter amid Israel’s raid of the facility, which drew international alarm and condemnation.
During a press conference in California, Biden said that “you have a circumstance where the first war crime is being committed by Hamas by having their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital.”
“And that’s a fact,” the president added. “That’s what’s happened.”
But at the end of the press conference, Biden declined when asked to detail the evidence the U.S. has seen showing that Hamas has a command center beneath al-Shifa, which is been under assault by Israeli forces for weeks.
“No, I can’t tell you,” Biden replied. “I won’t tell you.”
Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in response to Biden’s remarks that “a U.S. official tells me that the ‘U.S. intel’ is simply based on what Israel has provided, i.e. ISRAELI intel.”
“This may be why a dissent cable accused Biden of misleading the American public,” Parsi added, referring to an internal memo signed by dozens of U.S. foreign service officials.
Gaza health officials have repeatedly denied that Hamas has a command center inside or beneath al-Shifa, where thousands of patients, medical workers, and displaced people remain. Israel has used the claim to justify its attacks on the hospitals, which human rights groups have called a war crime.
Following its initial raid on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released photos and video footage purporting to show Hamas weapons and combat equipment at al-Shifa, but Israel has yet to provide any evidence of a secret Hamas base or tunnels under the hospital.
As The Washington Post reported, Israel said “no further evidence of Hamas activities in the hospital was scheduled to be made public for now” following the Wednesday release of the photos and video footage.
“Israel had hoped the controversial raid would turn up firm evidence of substantial militant activity in al-Shifa, a European diplomat told the Post on Thursday,” the newspaper added. “But the absence of clear proof to date has already led Western allies, including the United States, to increase pressure on Israel to accept a pause in fighting, said the diplomat.”
On Thursday, Israeli troops raided al-Shifa from the south, according to Al Jazeera, destroying a wall and interrogating the hospital’s workers.
Mohammed Zaqout, the director-general of Gaza’s hospitals, told Al Jazeera that “there is no member of Hamas in al-Shifa Hospital.”
“There is no military activity in al-Shifa,” Zaqout added. “All that happened is around the hospital but inside the hospital, all of the people are civilians.”
An IDF spokesperson claimed Wednesday that Hamas “knew we were coming” and “tried to hide evidence of their war crimes,” but analysts have expressed growing skepticism about the government’s insistence that Hamas used al-Shifa as a major command center.
“Did 200 Hamas forces, who IDF intelligence claims were present at Shifa Hospital after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, vanish out of thin air?” Yonah Jeremy Bob, the Jerusalem Post‘s senior military correspondent, asked Wednesday.
“All of the following could change radically if the IDF finds a larger smoking gun overnight Wednesday or on Thursday, but at press time, the IDF had presented a much weaker case to the world about Hamas’ presence at the hospital than expected,” he added. “The IDF announced zero arrests and even foreign media only mentioned two arrests, with five Hamas terrorists being killed just outside the hospital, but none inside—not even a single gunfight.”
Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.
This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
For more background on this see: “Hospitals are not battlegrounds”: International condemnation grows as Israel raids al-Shifa (theleftchapter.com)