U.S. spy agencies believe that Hamas and another Palestinian group fighting Israel used Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza to command forces and hold some hostages, according to new American intelligence declassified on Tuesday.
The hospital was the focus of a large Israel Defense Forces effort in November to take control of the facility, an operation that came under intense international scrutiny and criticism.
Israeli officials said Hamas had built a vast complex under the hospital, making it a legitimate military target. But critics said the military operation effectively cut off and shut down a crucial part of Gaza’s medical network with little evidence that Hamas was using the hospital as a command post.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday that the American government continued to believe that Hamas used the hospital complex and sites beneath it to exercise command and control activities, store weapons and hold “at least a few hostages.”
American intelligence agencies obtained information that Hamas fighters had evacuated the complex days before the multiday operation, destroying documents and electronics as they left, the senior intelligence official said.
After the operation, the Israeli military took reporters to a shaft at the complex leading to a tunnel network. Later, the military showed the tunnels underneath the hospital.
White House officials at the time backed the Israeli assessment. “We have information that confirms that Hamas is using that particular hospital for a command and control node,” John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, said on Nov. 14.
In the weeks since the operation, news organizations have continued to raise questions about Hamas’s presence at the hospital. And health and humanitarian organizations have criticized the Israeli operation. A humanitarian team lead by the World Health Organization, which visited Al-Shifa immediately after Israeli forces stormed the hospital, called it a “death zone.”
But the American intelligence assessment has remained firm that the hospital was used by Hamas. The new intelligence represents the most current American assessment, officials said.
The complex was used by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to command forces fighting against Israel, according to the intelligence.
While the spy agencies provided no visual evidence, a U.S. official said they were confident in their assessment because it was based on information collected by Israel and America’s own intelligence, gathered independently.
Some had hoped that the operation to take the hospital could result in the rescue of some of the hostages taken by Palestinian fighters during their Oct. 7 attack on Israel. No hostages were rescued, but Israeli officials found the bodies of two hostages at or near the complex, officials have said.
The new American intelligence assessment says the Israeli assessment was at least partially correct that some hostages were held at or under the complex. But those hostages appear to have been moved as Hamas evacuated.