Mohammad Abu Salmiya, director of Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, giving a press briefing on November 1, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA STRIP:  The head of Gaza City’s Al Shifa hospital, the largest in the Palestinian territory, was arrested Thursday by Israeli forces who said it was over the facility’s alleged use by Hamas.

Hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya has been frequently quoted by international media about the conditions inside Al Shifa, a major focus of an Israeli ground offensive following attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.

Also read

The Israeli army, which raided the hospital last week, has alleged that Hamas fighters used a tunnel complex beneath the facility in Gaza City to stage attacks.

Hamas and hospital officials have repeatedly denied the claims.

Palestinian health officials said Abu Salmiya, another doctor and two nurses had been arrested.

The hospital director was held for questioning following “evidence showing that Al Shifa Hospital, under his direct management, served as a Hamas command and control centre”, the Israeli military said in a statement.

There was “extensive Hamas terrorist activity” at the hospital while it was “under his management”, it said, adding that a Hamas tunnel network used electricity and other resources from the facility.

Whether the director would be subject to further questioning would depend on whether he was found to have “involvement in terrorist activity”, it said.

In a statement, Hamas said it “strongly denounces” the arrest of Salmiya and his colleagues, calling on the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international bodies to work towards their “immediate release”.

Disputed hospital evacuation order

Al Shifa hospital has seen extended Israeli special forces operations as part of Israel’s war against Gaza militants, and on Wednesday, troops escorted journalists to a tunnel shaft at the complex which they said was part of a vast underground network used by Hamas.

Instructions to evacuate the hospital were issued on Saturday, prompting the exodus of hundreds of patients and displaced, with Salmiya telling AFP last week that he had received the evacuation order from Israeli forces.

But the Israeli army said the evacuations were carried out at the “request” of Abu Salmiya.

The military released an audio recording presented as a conversation between Abu Salmiya and a senior Israeli officer in which the two men blame each other for the evacuation.

On Thursday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said it joined forces with the United Nations to evacuate a further 190 wounded and sick people, their companions and medical staff from Al-Shifa to other hospitals in southern Gaza.

The evacuation took nearly 20 hours due to delays at the checkpoint separating northern and southern Gaza, it said on X, formerly Twitter, adding that three paramedics had been detained, two of whom were subsequently released.

The Hamas-run government in Gaza says more than 14,000 people have been killed since the Israeli military campaign began, most of them women and children.

It started after Hamas gunmen poured across the border in an unprecedented attack on October 7. Israeli officials say about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and around 240 taken hostage.