Factbox-Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital becomes latest battleground

By Stephen Farrell

(Reuters) -Al Shifa Hospital, raided by Israel on Wednesday, is the largest in the Gaza Strip.

Both Israel and the United States have said that Hamas militants were using Gaza’s hospitals to hide command posts and hostages using underground tunnels.

Hamas, which has controlled the coastal enclave since 2007, has built a tunnel city stretching beneath Gaza for hundreds of kilometres, up to 80 metres (87 yards) deep in parts.

Hamas, health authorities and Shifa directors have denied that the group is concealing military infrastructure in or under the complex and have said they would welcome an international inspection.


Shifa is a sprawling complex of buildings and courtyards a few hundred metres from Gaza City’s small fishing port, sandwiched between Beach refugee camp and the city’s Rimal neighbourhood.

Its name comes from the Arabic word “healing” – common for hospitals in the Middle East.


The hospital was caring for 36 babies as of Tuesday, according to medical staff there who said there was no clear mechanism to move them despite an Israeli effort to supply incubators for an evacuation.

Three of the original 39 premature babies have already died since Gaza’s biggest hospital ran out of fuel at the weekend to power generators that had kept their incubators going.


It was built in 1946 during British rule, two years before Britain withdrew from Palestine. It survived the Egyptian invasion in 1948 and two decades of Egyptian military rule.

In 1967, Israel captured and occupied the Gaza Strip and Shifa remained a focal point – long before Hamas – where many Palestinians were taken during clashes with Israeli troops.

In 1971, the Times of London reported a gun battle took place between a Palestinian militant who hid under a bed in the nurses’ quarters and an Israeli army patrol that was searching the hospital.

In 1987, during the opening week of the First Intifada against Israeli occupation, The New York Times reported a confrontation when several hundred Palestinians outside Shifa threw rocks at Israeli soldiers while shouting, “Come and kill us all or get out!”


During the 1980s, the hospital complex was revamped and redesigned by Israeli architects, according to Israeli news reports.

Zvi Elhyani, founder of the Israel Architecture Archive, wrote on Ynet on Nov. 9: “With the aid of American support, Israel embarked on a project to revamp and enlarge the hospital complex. This undertaking also involved the installation of a subterranean concrete floor. In a grim twist, this underground area has been appropriated in recent years by Hamas,” he wrote without providing evidence of the claim.


In 1994, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah-dominated security forces saluted the Palestinian flag when it was raised over the hospital after Palestinians were granted limited self-autonomy in Gaza during the Oslo peace process.

Effective control over it passed from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to Hamas after the Islamist group’s surprise 2006 election victory and 2007 military takeover of Gaza.

During the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas building up to that takeover, fighters from both sides were treated at Shifa and other hospitals, under a form of truce that neither would harm the other side’s wounded.

Israel has previously claimed that Hamas used underground areas in Shifa to hide – it said as much during a 2008-2009 war in which more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. It was not possible to verify the claims.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Additional reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Nick Macfie and Howard Goller)