Israeli undercover forces dressed as women and medics storm West Bank hospital, killing 3 Palestinians

AFP , AP , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

Israeli forces disguised as civilian women and medical workers stormed a hospital Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing three Palestinians in a dramatic raid that underscored how deadly violence has spilled into the territory from the war in Gaza.

 Israeli forces disguised as civilians and medical workers
In this image taken from surveillance video provided by the Palestinian Health Ministry, Israeli forces disguised as civilians and medical workers hold weapons in a hallway at the Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank town of Jenin, Tuesday, jan 30, 2024, in the occupied West Bank, killing three Palestinian militants in a dramatic raid that underscored how deadly violence has spilled into the territory from the war in Gaza. AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile ruled out a military withdrawal from Gaza or the release of thousands of jailed people,  Hamas' main two demands for any ceasefire, casting doubt on the latest efforts to end a war that has destabilized the broader Middle East.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces opened fire inside the wards of the Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank town of Jenin. It condemned the raid and called on the international community to pressure Israel to halt such operations in hospitals. A hospital spokesperson said there was no exchange of fire, indicating it was a targeted killing.

The military said Hamas fighters were using the hospital as a hideout, without providing evidence. It alleged that one of those targeted had transferred weapons and ammunition to others for a planned attack, purportedly inspired by the Hamas offensive on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Security camera video footage from the hospital shows about a dozen undercover forces, most of them armed, wearing Muslim headscarves, hospital scrubs, or white doctor’s coats. One carried a rifle in one arm and a folded wheelchair in the other. They were seen patting down one man who kneeled against a wall, his arms raised.

Netanyahu Rejects Hamas' Key Demands

Netanyahu, speaking at an event elsewhere in the West Bank, denied reports of a possible ceasefire deal to end the war in Gaza and repeated his vow to keep fighting until “absolute victory” over Hamas.

“We will not end this war without achieving all of our goals,” said Netanyahu, who is under mounting pressure from families of the captives and the wider public to reach a deal. 

“We will not withdraw the Israeli military from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of militants,” he said.

On Tuesday, Hamas’ supreme political leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group was studying the latest terms for a deal, but that the priority was the “full withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Gaza and that any agreement should lead to a long-term ceasefire.

He said Hamas’ leadership had been invited to Cairo to continue talks. The group, which has reached lopsided exchange deals with Israel in the past, is expected to demand the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile militants, in exchange for the remaining captives.

Qatar and Egypt, which mediate with Hamas, have held talks with Israel and the United States in recent days. 

US officials said negotiators had made progress toward a deal, including the phased release of the remaining captives over a two-month period and the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

On Oct.7, Hamas launched the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation and stormed into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, and capturing about 250 others. 

Since then, Israel launched a blistering offensive on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 26,700 people in Gaza, 70% of them women and children, with another 65,636 people wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

Over 100 Israeli and foreign captives were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The conflict has also leveled vast swaths of the tiny coastal enclave, displaced 85% of its population, and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation. 

That humanitarian crisis may soon be exacerbated, the UN has warned, after several countries froze funding to the main aid provider to Palestinians in Gaza following Israeli claims that a dozen of its workers participated in the Oct. 7 offensive.

West Bank Crackdown 

Violence in the West Bank has also surged since Oct. 7, as Israel has cracked down on Palestinians, killing more than 380, according to the health ministry in the territory. Most were killed in confrontations with Israeli forces during arrest raids.

The military said in Tuesday's hospital raid, forces killed Mohammed Jalamneh, 27, who it said was planning an imminent attack. The two other men killed, brothers Basel and Mohammed Ghazawi, were hiding inside the hospital and were involved in attacks, the military said.

Hamas claimed the three men as members, calling the operation “a cowardly assassination.”

Hospital spokesperson Tawfiq al-Shobaki said there was no exchange of fire, and that Basel Ghazawi had been a patient since October, with partial paralysis. He said the Israelis attacked doctors, nurses, and hospital security during the raid.

“What happened is a precedent,” he said. “There was never an assassination inside a hospital. There were arrests and assaults, but not an assassination.”

Israel has come under heavy criticism for its raids on hospitals in Gaza, which have treated the tens of thousands of Palestinians wounded in the war and provided critical shelter for displaced people.

Gaza’s health care system, which was already feeble before the war, is on the verge of collapse, buckling under the scores of patients, the lack of fuel and medical necessities limited by Israeli restrictions, and repeated interruptions from fighting in and near the facilities.

Israel claims that Hamas fighters use hospitals as cover, hiding out in them or launching operations from them and adding that it has found underground tunnels in the vicinity of hospitals.

Tuesday's raid took place in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin, long a bastion of armed struggle against Israel and the frequent target of Israeli raids, even before the war began.

Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but imposed a stifling blockade on the territory when Hamas came to power in 2007.

It maintains an open-ended occupation of the West Bank, where more than half a million Israelis now live in settlements.

The Palestinians claim these territories as part of their future independent state.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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