JENIN, West Bank (AP) — Armed Israeli forces disguised as women and medical workers stormed a hospital Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing three Palestinian militants in a dramatic raid that underscored the spillover of deadly violence to the territory during the war in Gaza.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces opened fire inside the wards of the Ibn Sina Hospital in the town of Jenin. The ministry condemned the raid and called on the international community to pressure Israel’s military to halt such operations in hospitals. A hospital spokesperson said there was no exchange of fire, indicating that it was a targeted killing.
The military said the militants were using the hospital as a hideout. It alleged that one of those targeted in the raid had transferred weapons and ammunition to others for a planned attack, purportedly inspired by the Hamas assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7. The military did not provide evidence backing that claim.
Footage said to be security camera video from the hospital that circulated on social media showed about a dozen undercover forces, most of them armed, dressed as women with Muslim headscarves or hospital staff in scrubs or white doctor’s coats. One in a surgical mask carried a rifle in one arm and a folded wheelchair in the other. The forces were seen patting down one man who kneeled against a wall, his arms raised.
Israel has come under heavy criticism for its raids on hospitals in Gaza, which have acted as a shelter for displaced people and also as a critical yet struggling lifeline for the tens of thousands of Palestinians wounded in the war. Gaza’s health care system, which was already feeble before the war, has been on the verge of collapse, buckling under the scores of patients, the lack of resources — including fuel and medical necessities blocked by Israeli restrictions — and the repeated fighting surrounding and inside hospitals.
Israel says militants use hospitals, especially in Gaza, to hide out or to launch operations from. The military has found underground tunnels in the vicinity of hospitals, and says it has located weapons and vehicles used in the Oct. 7 attack on hospital grounds.
The war was triggered by Hamas’ attack, when hundreds of militants stormed across the border, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250 others.
The attack set off a blistering air, sea and ground offensive that has killed more than 26,000 people in Gaza and wounded more than 65,000, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. The ministry count does not distinguish between fighters and noncombatants, but it says about two-thirds of the dead are women and minors.
The fighting has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe, displacing 85% of the tiny coastal enclave’s population, leveling vast swaths of it, and pushing a quarter of residents to starvation, according to the United Nations. That crisis may soon be exacerbated, the U.N. has warned, over a spate of funding freezes to the main aid provider to Palestinians in Gaza following Israeli claims that a dozen of its workers participated in the Oct. 7 assault.
Since Oct. 7, violence in the West Bank has also surged as Israel has cracked down on suspected militants, killing more than 380 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Most were killed in confrontations with Israeli forces during arrest raids or violent protests.
The Israeli military says it has arrested nearly 3,000 Palestinians in the West Bank over the past four months.
The military said Tuesday that 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 claimed.
The military did not provide details on how the three were killed. Its statement said Jalamneh was armed with a pistol, but made no mention of an exchange of fire.
Hospital spokesperson Tawfiq al-Shobaki said there was no exchange of fire and the three were killed by Israeli forces in a targeted killing. 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.”
He said Basel Ghazawi had been a patient in the hospital since October with hemiplegia, or partial paralysis.
Hamas claimed the three men as members, calling the operation “a cowardly assassination.”
The raid took place in Jenin, long a bastion of armed struggle against Israel, where the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority and its security forces have little of a foothold. The city had been the frequent target of Israeli raids even before the war began. Israeli operations there and in an adjacent built-up refugee camp have left vast destruction.
Israel occupied the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. More than half a million Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank.
Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but imposed a stifling blockade on the territory, along with Egypt, when Hamas came to power in a violent takeover in 2007.
The Palestinians claim those territories as part of their future independent state, hopes for which have increasingly dimmed since the war began.
Qatar, Egypt and the United States were trying to strike a new deal between Israel and Hamas that could lead to a pause in fighting and see the release of dozens of hostages still held in Gaza.
Progress on the deal still remained elusive.
Israel said cease-fire talks held Sunday were constructive but that “significant gaps” remained in any potential agreement.
Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut that discussions are continuing but that the group was still insisting on a more permanent cease-fire before releasing any more hostages.
The prime minister of Qatar, which has served as a key mediator with Hamas, was more upbeat, saying U.S. and Mideast mediators had reached a framework proposal for a cease-fire and hostage release to present to the militant group. Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said the mediators had made “good progress.”
Israeli forces were meanwhile still battling Palestinian militants in different parts of Gaza, even in areas where the army has been operating for months.
Israel issued an evacuation order to residents in the western part of Gaza City, urging them to head south. The military also said it had battled militants and carried out airstrikes in recent days in other parts of northern Gaza, which was pummeled in the first weeks of the war and where Israel has claimed to have largely dismantled Hamas.
Lidman reported from Jerusalem.
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