Did Israel Build Underground Fortress Under Gaza’s Biggest Hospital?

Mehmet Rakipoglu, a researcher at the London-based think tank Dimensions for Strategic Studies, claimed that Israel built an underground fortress under Gaza’s biggest hospital.

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With 700 beds, the Dar Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City is the biggest medical facility in the Gaza Strip. Over the past week and a half, the IDF has launched many attacks on the facility, claiming that Hamas uses the facilities below as a stronghold command center. Is this story true in any way?

In an alarming X post published on Monday, the Israel Defence Forces gave a concerning justification for their targeting of ambulances and hospitals in the Gaza Strip. They claimed that “hospitals are in fact terrorist infrastructure” and that “for Hamas, ambulances are used to transport its operatives and weapons to disguise them as civilians.”

“This is against international law and turns them into legitimate military targets,” the IDF said.

There have been numerous attacks on the al-Shifa hospital complex in the days, weeks, and months prior to and following. On November 4, an airstrike struck an ambulance close to the hospital’s entrance, resulting in 60 injuries and 15 fatalities. On November 6, the hospital was the target of another attack. At last, the IDF conducted a ground raid inside the building on Wednesday.

The IDF said that prior to launching its “precise and targeted operation,” Hamas had created a covert headquarters located beneath the medical facility. The military bemoaned that the “relevant authorities in Gaza” had disregarded an IDF order to “cease” “all military activities within the hospital” and stated in a statement that it had “publicly warned time and again that Hamas’ continued military use of the Shifa Hospital jeopardizes its protected status under international law.”

According to data taken from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel, by the financial time, the war on Gaza might collapse Israel’s economy as it has already destroyed thousands” of businesses.

A few weeks prior, the Israeli Defence Forces unveiled a computer-generated animation depicting a vast purported subterranean tunnel and bunker complex, which they said was located beneath the medical facility. The film featured conference rooms, caches of weapons and fuel, and even a temporary weapons manufacturing facility. Subsequently, Israeli intelligence released video footage of a captured Hamas fighter being questioned, in which the militant group acknowledged the existence of a huge underground complex beneath al-Shifa that was hardened and utilized. In support of Washington’s Israeli ally, US intelligence, Pentagon, and White House officials weighed in, claiming that Hamas has been using tunnels underneath Al-Shifa for “command and control areas as well as weapons storage” and that the hospital is being used “to support their military operations,” according to “newly declassified intelligence.”

The IDF is allegedly using the accusations to legitimize its indiscriminate bombing of the Gaza Strip, according to Hamas, which has rejected the accusations.

Who Built the Facilities Underneath al-Shifa?

Al-Shifa began as an army barracks during the British Mandate for Palestine era. In 1946, during the latter years of Britain’s occupancy, it was converted into a hospital. From 1953 to 1967, when Egypt administered Gaza, it grew into a complex of medical services. After taking control of the Strip in June 1967 during the Six-Day War, Israel expanded and preserved the hospital complex. In the 1980s, with US financial support, the hospital underwent a major renovation, and Israeli architects Teddy and Ben Kaplan, among others, were tasked with designing its contemporary layout. They outlined a “Master Plan for the Year 2000,” which consisted of contemporary, six-story buildings spanning 12.5 acres and outfitted with the most cutting-edge medical advancements available at the time.

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Model of Israeli architects’ grandiose plans for the Shifa hospital complex.

In addition to the medical facilities, the project is said to have included the construction of a vast “underground concrete floor” beneath the Hospital’s Building Number 2 in 1983, as well as “a secure underground operating room and tunnel network” underneath the building. Additional stories claimed that the hospital’s laundry and “various administrative” offices were housed in the fortified basement facilities.

Notably, Zippor had prior experience building subterranean military installations; in fact, he worked on transforming Six-Day War bunkers and trenches into Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill Memorial Site and Museum between 1972 and 1976.

According to a 2014 Ynet story, Zippor’s son Barak stated that an Israeli contractor “hired Hamas as a security company” for the hospital in the late 1980s, indicating that Hamas was aware of the hospital complex’s subterranean fortified portions.

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Gershon Zippor, one of the architects who helped build the al-Shifa medical complex.

Regarding Hamas’ possible use of the underground facilities following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, a 2009 Haaretz report citing Palestinian sources claimed that the militant group’s leaders never hide in one spot but rather disperse and alternate locations frequently through a complex network of tunnels.

Reporters covering Israeli attacks on or near the hospital during Israel’s wars with Hamas in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, and 2023 have yet to present any direct proof of Hamas’ use of the underground facilities built by the Israelis. Additionally, none of the Israeli reporting on the hospital complex’s construction shows photos of its allegedly fortified basement areas.

“When it comes to the issue of the bunker or the tunnels underneath the Shifa Hospital, I think one of the reasons that Israel is…asserting this is because every time it has tried to make an assertion regarding Hamas’ operations, those assertions have consistently been debunked,” Sami Hamdi, political analyst and head of International Interest, a UK-based global risk and intelligence company, told Sputnik.

To bolster its claims that the Palestinian militant group uses civilian infrastructure and civilians as human shields, the IDF will surely look for evidence that Hamas used tunnels and underground facilities constructed in the 1980s. However, the political analyst thinks Tel Aviv may not be able to effectively influence public opinion in this way.

“The point being, I think that when it comes to the Israelis pushing this narrative, it has less to do with the idea that Israel actually believes [it] and more about a desperate attempt to try to win back public opinion that it has emphatically lost as a result of the bombardment of social media videos showing the realities of the atrocities that are being committed in Gaza,” Hamdi said.

The irony of the IDF accusing Hamas of using bunkers and tunnels underneath Gaza’s civilian infrastructure is brought to light by Mehmet Rakipoglu, a researcher at the London-based think tank Dimensions for Strategic Studies. Israel appears to have constructed the “secret shelter” under the Shifa hospital in the first place.

“It is obvious that Hamas did not use the hospital as a shield. Even though Israel tries to manipulate public opinion with amateur videos, the truth is clear,” Rakipoglu told Sputnik. So far, “the places that Israel claims to be used by the ‘Hamas terrorist cells’ and as tunnels are spare water tanks,” the observer said, referring to social media posts mocking the IDF’s reported ‘proof’ of alleged militant tunnel networks in civilian areas which turn out to be mere water containers, heaters and septic tanks.

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