Israeli troops say proof of Hamas base at Gaza hospital yet to come

CBS News has traveled with Israeli soldiers to Al-Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip's largest health care facility, which became the focus this week of the Israel Defense Forces' ongoing war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The hospital, which  Israeli forces moved in on Wednesday night, has also become the focus of a global outcry over Israel's tactics.

Central to Israel's justification of its devastating military campaign in Gaza is its claim that Hamas' armed wing has been running extensive operations from within Al-Shifa Hospital. The only way for international journalists to enter Gaza is with Israeli forces, and our team was taken to the sprawling medical complex by one of Israel's elite special forces units.

We could only go where they brought us and see what they wanted to show us, but Israel's army had no control over our final report.

CBS News traveled with troops in one of Israel's most sophisticated armored personnel carriers, the "Namer," or Tiger, deep into Gaza under the cover of darkness on Thursday night. It was the only way to see firsthand what is going on at Gaza City's Al-Shifa Hospital, which has been surrounded by Israeli forces for several days.

As the Tiger passed through the battered streets of what was a once vibrant city home to nearly 800,000 Palestinians, a monitor showed the ghostly wreckage of building after building outside. Not a single person was seen on the rubble strewn streets.

At the hospital our team was met by members of Israel's Shaldag air force unit, known for its commando style raids, which led the raid on the sprawling hospital complex and have been searching it since Wednesday.

They were eager to show CBS News what they say was discovered, including a tunnel entrance and weapons they pointed to as proof that Hamas fighters used the hospital as a command center — a long-standing Israeli claim that Hamas denies.

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Inside a small, one-story building, we were shown a collection of grenades, rifles and ammunition that the IDF said were taken from a vehicle found on the hospital grounds.

The Israel Defense Forces say this photo shows the entrance to a tunnel shaft discovered on the grounds of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. / Credit: Israel Defense Forces photo
The Israel Defense Forces say this photo shows the entrance to a tunnel shaft discovered on the grounds of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. / Credit: Israel Defense Forces photo

Israel has faced criticism that the evidence it has provided so far is underwhelming — that it doesn't amount to unequivocal proof that the hospital, packed with patients and thousands of civilians seeking shelter, was also being used as a Hamas command center.

"It will take us time," IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told CBS News as he showed us the weaponry. A soldier with him interjected, saying, "this was not just one Hamas headquarter; this was at least three headquarters working simultaneously in the city and outside the city."

Pressed for more evidence of those command centers, the soldier told CBS News it was "not something you can see right now."

A photo released by the Israel Defense Forces shows weapons the IDF says were discovered at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. / Credit: Israel Defense Forces photo
A photo released by the Israel Defense Forces shows weapons the IDF says were discovered at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. / Credit: Israel Defense Forces photo

The Israeli army's chief of staff said Friday that the offensive — which the country's leader has vowed will "destroy Hamas" in retaliation for the group's bloody Oct. 7 terror attack that killed roughly 1,200 people across southern Israel — still has a long way to go.

He said "more and more" regions would be targeted as his troops get closer to dismantling Hamas, which has for years been designated a terror group by Israel, the U.S. and most of Europe.

The Biden administration backed Israel's claim that Al-Shifa Hospital was being used as a base by Hamas' armed wing.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, around 650 patients, many of them in critical condition, remain inside the hospital, but CBS News was not allowed access to any of them, or any doctors at the facility.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel would make every effort to complete its operation in Gaza "with minimal civilian casualties."

"That's what we're trying to do, minimum civilian casualties. But, unfortunately, we're not successful," Netanyahu told CBS Evening News' Norah O'Donnell, blaming his military's unsuccessful efforts squarely on Hamas, which he called a "theological, mad cult," which he accused of deliberately trapping Palestinian civilians behind its fighters to use as human shields.

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