Israeli army arrests al-Shifa Hospital director, other medical personnel in Gaza

Director Muhammad Abu Salmiya and several more medical personnel arrested by Israeli forces

Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the director of al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, was arrested on Thursday
Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the director of al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, was arrested on Thursday [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

The Israeli military detained the director of Al-Shifa hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza, on Thursday, accusing him of running the hospital as a Hamas command center.

Muhammad Abu Salamiya, the hospital director, has been a prominent source of information for international media outlets about the situation in Al-Shifa, which has been under Israeli attack since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants launched a cross-border raid.

The Israeli army claimed that Hamas operatives used a network of tunnels under the hospital in Gaza City to carry out attacks against Israeli forces. Both Hamas and hospital authorities have denied the allegations.

According to Palestinian health officials, Salamiya and three other medical staff members were arrested by Israeli troops.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Salamiya was interrogated based on “evidence indicating that Shifa Hospital, under his direct supervision, served as a Hamas command and control center.”

The statement added that the hospital was the site of “extensive Hamas terrorist activity” while Salamiya was in charge, and that a Hamas tunnel system exploited the hospital’s electricity and other resources.

The military said that Salamiya’s fate would depend on whether he was found to be “involved in terrorist activity.”

Hamas condemned the arrest of Salamiya and his colleagues in a statement, and urged the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international organizations to intervene for their “immediate release”.

Meanwhile, Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said on Thursday night that the Indonestian Hospital in Gaza City was “severely shelled.”

He said that the hospital’s generators and a large part of the building were damaged, and that he was concerned about the safety of the patients and staff.

Qudra also said that 180 people, including patients and staff, were still trapped in Al-Shifa.

He demanded their evacuation, saying that they had no electricity, food or water left.

He said that the Israeli army was firing at the hospital and ordering them to leave through loudspeakers, threatening to bomb them.

Al-Shifa hospital has been a target of Israeli special forces operations as part of Israel’s war on Gaza militants. On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers showed journalists a tunnel entrance at the hospital compound, claiming that it was part of a large underground network used by Hamas.

Salamiya told AFP last week that he had received an order from the Israeli army to evacuate the hospital on Saturday, which led to hundreds of patients and displaced people leaving the premises.

However, the Israeli army said that the evacuation was done at the “request” of Salamiya.

The army released an audio recording that it said was a conversation between Salamiya and a senior Israeli officer, in which they blamed each other for the evacuation.

On Thursday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said that it coordinated with the United Nations to evacuate another 190 injured and sick people, along with their relatives and medical staff, from Al-Shifa to other hospitals in southern Gaza.

The evacuation took nearly 20 hours due to delays at the checkpoint that separates northern and southern Gaza, the Red Crescent said on social media. It also said that three paramedics were detained by the Israeli army, two of whom were later released.

The Hamas-controlled government in Gaza said that almost 15,000 people have been killed since the Israeli military campaign began, mostly women and children.

The campaign was triggered by a surprise attack by Hamas gunmen on Oct. 7, in which they crossed the border into Israel. Israel said that about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict, and that around 240 were taken captive.