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The United Nations human rights chief has called on Israel to grant his team access to Gaza to investigate competing claims about the Al-Shifa Hospital.
“We need to look into this by having access. We cannot rely on one or the other party when it comes to this," Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told CNN’s Beck Anderson when asked about allegations by the Israeli military that Hamas was hiding weapons at the hospital.
He said the situation needs an "independent international investigation, because we have different narratives."
Pressure on Israel: Israel is under growing international pressure to uncover proof of what it has described as a Hamas command and control center under the Al-Shifa Hospital, as Israeli forces launched a raid at the facility early Wednesday. The Hamas-run government media office denied it was using the hospital as a command and control center — calling the Israeli claims "baseless lies."
Türk said hospitals had special protection at all times under humanitarian law.
“You cannot use civilian, especially hospitals, for any military purposes. But you also cannot attack a hospital in the absence of clear evidence," Türk said.
Request for access to Gaza and the West Bank: Türk said investigators could not go to Gaza "while the bombs are falling or while military operations are taking place,” and so his team was monitoring the situation from afar for now. He said he previously asked the Israeli government for access to Gaza and the occupied West Bank but was “still waiting for the answer.”
The actions of both Israel and Hamas since the militant group’s massacre of an estimated 1,200 people on October 7 must be investigated, Türk said.
International humanitarian law in the conflict: Since Hamas launched its brazen October 7 attacks and Israel responded with intensive air strikes and a ground offensive, both sides have been accused of committing war crimes.
"We have seen … grave breaches of international humanitarian law," Türk said, speaking broadly of the actions from both sides.
“What Hamas did — the horrific killing of civilians, the fact that they took hostages — are clear violations of the law. The fact that we have seen a collective punishment by Israel of Gaza, by cutting off supplies, of medical necessities, of food, of electricity, of water is also [a] very serious matter under international humanitarian law," Türk said.
"In fact, we consider it a crime, [just] as Hamas was acting criminally by taking hostages and killing civilians. So, indeed, there are issues that we all have to look into because they are very serious. And they require answers. And they require accountability," Türk said.
Aid organizations said any Israeli move into the south of the enclave could make an already bad humanitarian situation considerably worse.
Here are other headlines you should know:
- Possible incursion: A leaflet dropped Wednesday on communities to the east of Khan Younis, the largest city in the southern part of Gaza, warned people living there to move and “head towards known shelters.” The four communities – Al Qarrah, Khuza’a, Bani Suhaila, and Absaan – sit close to the perimeter fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, suggesting possible new incursion points by Israeli forces looking to take control of the south.
- Raid and fighting at hospitals: Al-Shifa is at the center of an ongoing Israeli military raid that started in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Israel claims it found an “operational tunnel shaft” inside the hospital complex. The lack of medical supplies at the hospital is forcing staff to make “harrowing” decisions, the facility’s director, Dr. Mohammad Abu Salmiyah, told Al-Jazeera Arabic in a phone interview from inside the complex Thursday. Meanwhile, medics trapped inside the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City say they are unable to reach wounded people outside because of intense fighting in the area, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said in a statement Thursday.
- Humanitarian crisis: As access to fuel and other resources dwindle in Gaza, "massive outbreaks of infectious disease, and hunger, seem inevitable" United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned Thursday. Türk said calls by his office for the de-escalation of violence, particularly in Gaza, have been ignored. The United Nations Human Rights chief also called out intensifying violence and severe discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. UNICEF said Tuesday that it has already received reports of rising levels of dehydration and more than 30,000 cases of diarrhea in Gaza. And a "total communication blackout" is underway in Gaza due to fuel shortages, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, said Thursday. Additionally, the Jordanian Army has sent a field hospital to Nablus in the West Bank, the Jordanian Armed Forces said in a statement Thursday.
- Diplomatic news: The US has not made any assessment if Israel has "violated international humanitarian law," State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said in a briefing Thursday. Miller also discussed US concerns that the Israeli government is not holding up the terms of the Visa Waiver Program for American passport holders in the West Bank. Separately, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with his Egyptian counterpart to discuss humanitarian aid for Gaza and efforts to get Americans out of the enclave. Elsewhere Thursday, the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell urged Israel "not to be consumed by rage" as the country continues to reel from Hamas' October 7 attacks.
- Continued fighting in Lebanon: Throughout Thursday morning, Israel launched missiles and artillery strikes on the outskirts of the Lebanese border villages of Naqoura, Blida, Alma Al-Shaab and Labouneh, according to the Lebanese National News Agency. Lebanese authorities say the area of Labouneh is "almost barren due" to Israel's use of "incendiary bombs."
- Evacuations: The State Department said that nearly 700 American citizens, legal permanent residents and family members have escaped Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, and there are less than 900 American citizens, legal permanent residents and family members still in Gaza. A total of 139 Spanish-Palestinian citizens and their families evacuated from Gaza have arrived in Spain, the country’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares announced on Thursday.
The director of Al-Shifa Hospital on Thursday described a grim picture of the unfolding humanitarian crisis within the medical complex in the Gaza Strip.
In a phone interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic, Mohammad Abu Salmiya spoke of desperate conditions affecting over 650 wounded people, 36 premature babies, 45 kidney patients and 5,000 displaced people.
Abu Salmiya said some there were starving children.
“The children are starving – and here I mean the displaced children because they need milk and there is no water to make milk for them,” Abu Salmiya said.
He reported the death of a kidney patient, with four others on the brink of death due to critical conditions and the absence of dialysis for days.
Abu Salmiya accused the Israeli military of besieging the hospital, sabotaging sections and spending the last 48 hours freely roaming the premises.
On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had begun “a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital.”
Expressing frustration, Abu Salmiya held the world and the Israeli occupation responsible for the dire circumstances, urging immediate intervention.
The hospital resembles a large prison holding over 7,000 displaced people, medical staff, patients and wounded all while it is facing a severe shortage of essentials, the director said. The Israeli military assault has led to a complete breakdown of life-saving services, leaving the hospital incapable of providing for its inhabitants, he added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed deep concern Thursday over the fourth communications blackout to hit Gaza after Paltel Group's announcement of a complete shutdown of communication services across the Strip due to a severe fuel shortage.
This disruption puts internet and phone connectivity at serious risk, posing a grave threat to journalists reporting from Gaza and their vital coverage.
“By withholding fuel from Gaza, the Israeli government is preventing journalists from providing the world with updates on the war, leaving the international community vulnerable to deadly propaganda, disinformation, and misinformation," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.
Mansour urged immediate action, calling for Israel and Egypt to "immediately allow fuel into the Gaza Strip as part of the essential humanitarian assistance needed in the region.”
The blackout raises concerns about the potential impact on the flow of accurate information from Gaza and its repercussions on global understanding of the situation.
The intelligence the United States says it has collected that Hamas was using Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a command node is primarily signals intelligence, three people familiar with the assessment told CNN.
This included intercepted conversations among the militants discussing the infrastructure, the sources said. Two of the people said the intelligence was solid.
"The US would not have said this if we did not buy the intelligence we’re seeing," one of the sources told CNN.
Some background: Israeli special forces raided the hospital Wednesday after saying it was the site of an underground command center for Hamas — a claim denied by the militant group and hospital officials.
Israel released a photo and video Thursday of what it called an “operational tunnel shaft,” which it claimed was found inside the hospital complex.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson told CNN on Thursday there are hundreds of miles of tunnels all around the Gaza Strip, including near the hospital.
“We have already found 300 shafts that go into these tunnels, most of them booby trappers, including in the vicinity of that hospital,” Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler said. “Now some of these have been also closed by Hamas and others will be revealed when we find them.”
The Hamas-run government media office on Thursday denied it was using Al-Shifa Hospital as a command and control center — calling the Israeli claims "baseless lies."
Hamas accused Israel of giving "false scenarios, fabricated narratives, and distorted information" about the Al-Shifa Medical Complex," in a written statement.
Earlier on Thursday, the Israeli army released a video to back up its claim of uncovering a "tunnel shaft" in the grounds of Gaza's main hospital.
The video showed what appeared to be a hole in the ground surrounded by exposed sandy soil, broken bits of metal, and concrete scattered around it a short distance from a hospital building.
Calling the tunnel shaft claim a "ridiculous scenario," Hamas said it was all "part of a continuous campaign of incitement and deception that has been promoted for years" to justify Israel's wars against Gaza. "It is a failed attempt to escape future accountability and legal pursuit," the statement said.
The statement added that the Palestinian Ministry of Health "has repeatedly requested dozens of times from all institutions, organizations, international bodies, and relevant parties to form technical teams to visit and inspect all hospitals, in order to refute the false incitement narrative."
Israel’s invasion of Gaza has destroyed decades of work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and set “the whole region on fire,” Jordan's foreign minister told CNN on Thursday.
“Israel is not producing security for itself by the killing of innocent Palestinians,” Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said. “It's putting the whole region on fire again, and it has destroyed the hard work that many had made over the decades to make sure that we come to a peaceful conclusion to this conflict.”
Israel had “killed any embrace of peace in the region” and its war against Hamas had pushed regional relations back more than 30 years, Safadi said.
The Jordanian government had been in talks with Israel about exchanging solar power for energy but these discussions have now stopped because people “don’t see any value” in dealing with Israel as its ground offensive in Gaza continues, Safadi said.
He said he thought the evidence Israel had offered to back its claim that Hamas had a “command node” under the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City was “just ridiculous” and an “insult to intelligence.”
He also pushed back on Israel’s claim that its military operations in Gaza were self-defense.
“Any other country in the world that would have done a fragment of what Israel is doing would have been under sanctions by now,” Safadi said. “This is not self-defense. This is raw, ugly, vengeance, and the world has a responsibility to stop it.”
Israel claims it found an “operational tunnel shaft” inside the Al-Shifa Hospital complex in Gaza City.
“Today, Hamas's tunneling infrastructure was exposed inside the hospital,” the Israeli military said in a statement, which also included a photo and video.
Israeli special forces raided the hospital — Gaza’s largest — in the early hours of Wednesday after saying for weeks it was the site of an underground command and control center for Hamas. Doctors and health officials in the Hamas-run enclave have consistently denied the accusation.
CNN cannot independently verify claims by Israel or Hamas.
The video provided by Israel shows exposed earth revealing a hole in the ground. The side of the shaft appears to be reinforced with concrete. Exposed pipes and cabling can also be seen close to the surface.
At one point the video — which has been geolocated by CNN — tilts up to reveal one of the hospital’s main buildings about 30 meters away from the hole.
The army statement said troops had also found what they said was a booby-trapped car close by containing a large amount of weapons and ammunition.
In a televised briefing Thursday evening, IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said army engineers were working to expose the tunnel infrastructure.
Hagari also said soldiers had unearthed an operational tunnel at the Al-Rantisi hospital in northern Gaza.