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Israeli soldiers show the media a tunnel found underneath Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Image Credit: AP

GAZA CITY: The Israeli military on Wednesday unveiled what it claimed was a Hamas military facility under Gaza’s largest hospital, showing what appeared to be a subterranean dormitory to a group of foreign journalists who were given a rare glimpse inside the besieged enclave.

Dozens of soldiers escorted journalists through a narrow stone tunnel — which the military said stretched 150 meters (164 yards) — to a series of underground bunkers beneath Al Shifa Hospital in a shattered Gaza City.

The living quarters, located at the end of the tunnel, had an air conditioner, kitchen, bathroom and pair of metal cots in a room fashioned from rusty white tile. They appeared to be out of use.

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Since Israel declared war against Hamas on Oct. 7, it has repeatedly accused the militant group of using Gaza’s hospitals as cover for military use. It has paid special attention to Al Shifa, saying Hamas has hidden command centres and bunkers underneath the hospital’s sprawling grounds.

Israel has not yet unveiled this purported centre, but the military portrayed the underground hideout as its most significant discovery yet. Hamas and the hospital administration have denied Israel’s accusations.

“[Al] Shifa Hospital is the hugest hospital in Gaza, and it’s also the hugest terror facility of Hamas,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson, as bombardment thundered nearby. “Hamas battalion commanders were conducting command and control, firing rockets from here.”

Israeli troops surround what the army says is the entrance to a tunnel dug by Hamas militants inside the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

The Associated Press could not independently verify Hagari’s claims.

The AP was allowed access to Gaza on the condition that its journalist stay with the Israeli military convoy throughout the four-hour tour and submit all material to a military censor ahead of publication. There is no other way for foreign journalists to currently access the enclave.

The war was triggered by Hamas’ October 7 cross-border attack that killed some 1,200 people and took 240 others hostage. Israel’s intense aerial campaign and devastating ground invasion have levelled entire neighbourhoods, and well over 11,00

Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Small sample

Bent on toppling Gaza’s Hamas rulers, Israel describes the heavy toll as the inevitable cost of fighting militants who use civilians as human shields and fire rockets from densely populated neighborhoods. Israel says at least some of the hostages were brought to Shifa.

On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers showed the foreign journalists weaponry they said they found at Al Shifa, including dozens of AK-47 assault rifles, 20 grenades and several drones. Hagari said the cache was just a small sample.

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An Israeli soldier stands in an underground tunnel found underneath Al Shifa Hospital. Image Credit: AP

The Israeli military has plowed through northern Gaza over the past month, leaving a trail of destruction in its effort to bomb Hamas’ tunnel network and other targets. Hamas fighters have used the underground network to ambush Israeli troops. In addition to the tunnel it showed journalists, the army says it had uncovered another two shafts near Shifa.

Although the trip was tightly controlled by the Israeli army, journalists could still catch glimpses of life in Gaza. From outside the hospital gates, at least a couple dozen exhausted Palestinians could be seen gathering their belongings, apparently ahead of an evacuation.

Hundreds of patients and doctors remain stranded at the besieged hospital. Thousands more who had been sheltering in its courtyard fled south last week as Israeli tanks drew close and fighting raged.

At one point, several Palestinians leaning out of a window at Shifa locked eyes with journalists. One man gave a thumbs-up. Others started to yell. Israeli soldiers shepherded the journalists away.

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An Israeli soldier stands in an underground tunnel found underneath Al Shifa Hospital. Image Credit: AFP

What remained on Gaza City’s ghostly streets were the ruins of collapsed buildings, spewing rubble onto streets. The facade of one abandoned building had been blown off, revealing furnished living rooms, glassware in cabinets somehow intact, mirrors still mounted on walls. Fortified bulldozers clawed through sand and gravel to clear the way for more tanks.

About 20 Israeli soldiers sat on the side of a road. They smiled and posed for the journalists’ cameras.

“There’s a great morale. Everyone’s ready to do what has to be done. Everyone’s ready to fight for the country,” said Staff Sgt. Oren, an Israeli soldier who said he is originally from Los Angeles. “Even when it’s hard, you sit with your friends and joke around a little bit. At the end of the day, you know why you’re here.”

The city’s coastal promenade that once bustled with cafes and coffee shops was gone. Instead, there was rubble and a single lifeguard hut. Recent bombing sent black plumes rising into the sky. Gunbattles could be heard rattling in the distance.

In the midst of the devastation, a line of Palestinian evacuees could be seen carrying their bags and other belongings. As the journalists in the Israeli army convoy passed by, they held their ID cards up to the armored personnel carriers. Some of them waved white flags.