By Aref Tufaha, Melanie Lidman And Wafaa Shurafa in Jenin – The Associated Press
Israeli forces disguised as civilian women and medics stormed a hospital Tuesday 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile ruled out a military withdrawal from Gaza or the release of thousands of jailed militants — Hamas’ main two demands for any cease-fire — 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 Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank town of Jenin. A hospital spokesperson said there was no exchange of fire, indicating it was a targeted killing.
Israel’s military said the militants 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 Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel that triggered the war in Gaza.
Security camera 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.
NETANYAHU REJECTS HAMAS’ KEY DEMANDS
Netanyahu, speaking at an event elsewhere in the West Bank, denied reports of a possible cease-fire 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 hostages 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 terrorists,” he said.
On Tuesday, Hamas’ top 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 cease-fire.
He said Hamas’ leadership had been invited to Cairo to continue talks. The militant 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 hostages.
Qatar and Egypt, which mediate with Hamas, have held talks with Israel and the United States in recent days. U.S. officials said negotiators had made progress toward a deal, including the phased release of the remaining hostages over a two-month period and the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The war in Gaza began when hundreds of Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250 others. Over 100 were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
Israel’s offensive has killed more than 26,700 people in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The ministry count does not distinguish between fighters and civilians, but it says about two-thirds of the dead are women and minors.
A strike on a residential building in the central town of Deir al-Balah on Tuesday killed 11 people, including four children, according to Associated Press reporters who saw the bodies at a hospital.
The war has leveled vast swaths of the tiny coastal enclave, displaced 85% of its population, and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.
HOSPITALS HAVE BECOME BATTLEGROUNDS
Israel has come under heavy criticism for its raids on hospitals in Gaza, which have treated 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 as well as a lack of fuel and medical necessities because of Israeli restrictions and fighting in and near the facilities.
Israel says militants use hospitals as cover. The military says it has found underground tunnels in the vicinity of hospitals and located weapons and vehicles used in the Oct. 7 attack on hospital grounds.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces raided the Al-Amal Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis on Tuesday, where about 7,000 displaced people were sheltering.
The rescue service said Israeli tanks lined up outside the hospital were firing live ammunition and smoke grenades at the people inside. Raed al-Nims, a spokesperson for the aid group, said everyone was ordered to evacuate.
The Israeli military said without elaborating that its forces were operating in the area of the hospital but not inside it.
WEST BANK CRACKDOWN
Violence in the West Bank has also surged since Oct. 7, 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 military said that 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.
The army statement said Jalamneh was armed with a pistol but made no mention of an exchange of fire.
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.
“What happened is a precedent,” he said. “There was never an assassination inside a hospital. There were arrests and assaults, but not an assassination.”
Tuesday’s raid took place in the 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, along with Egypt, when Hamas came to power in a violent takeover 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, hopes for which have increasingly dimmed since the war began.
Banner image: 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. (Palestinian Health Ministry via AP)
Lidman reported from Jerusalem and Shurafa from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed reporting from Beirut.