Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that Israel could target the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, where Hamas has its command center, according to a BBC interview.
Barak, who served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001 and as defense minister from 2007 to 2013, said that Israel would not attack the hospital while it was full of patients, but that it might evacuate them and then destroy the Hamas bunker underneath.
He said that Israel was determined to destroy Hamas and that it would not listen to calls for a ceasefire, despite the death toll exceeding more than 4,200 in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Barak’s comments came as Israel continued its offensive on Gaza, which it launched on October 7 in response to a surprise attack by Hamas that killed 1,300 Israelis and took at least 100 Israelis hostage. Israel said it was targeting Hamas militants and infrastructure, but its air strikes have also hit residential buildings, schools, hospitals and media offices.
The Shifa hospital is the largest and most important medical facility in Gaza, serving more than 2.3 million people. It has been overwhelmed by the influx of wounded and dead since the start of the Israeli offensive. It has also been a refuge for many civilians who have fled their homes in northern Gaza after Israel ordered them to evacuate ahead of a possible ground invasion.
The hospital has been hit by Israeli fire several times in the past, most recently on October 14, when an Israeli drone strike killed two people and injured several others near the hospital entrance. Israel denied targeting the hospital and said it was aiming at a nearby rocket launcher.
However, Barak claimed that the hospital was also used by Hamas as its headquarters and that Israel had intelligence that confirmed it.
“The central command post of Hamas is… in a bunker underneath the Shifa hospital. First of all, it’s a matter of fact, it’s known to everyone who knows the Middle East – every reporter that lives in Gaza or in Israel – knows that the command post of Hamas in Gaza is underneath,” he told the BBC.
He said that Hamas was using the hospital and its patients as human shields and that Israel would not fall for this tactic.
“I can promise you, that we will never attack the hospital [when] it is full with patients, in spite of knowing that it’s deliberately underneath the hospital. I cannot promise you for sure that at a certain point we won’t impose taking the patients out and passing them to another installation where they can be treated safely and then destroy the command post of Hamas,” he said.
Barak’s remarks sparked outrage and condemnation from Palestinian officials, health workers and human rights groups, who said that targeting a hospital was a war crime and a violation of international humanitarian law.
“This is a shocking and horrific statement by Barak. He is openly admitting that he wants to bomb a hospital full of patients and staff. This is a blatant disregard for human life and dignity,” said Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
“He is also lying about Hamas using the hospital as a command center. This is a baseless accusation that has no evidence whatsoever. The hospital is a purely civilian facility that provides vital health services to the people of Gaza. It has nothing to do with Hamas or any other faction,” he added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also denounced Barak’s statement and urged Israel to respect and protect health facilities and workers in Gaza.
“We are appalled by Barak’s suggestion to target the Shifa hospital. This is unacceptable and illegal under international law. Hospitals are not a target. They are places of healing and hope,” said Dr. Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
“We call on Israel to refrain from any attack on health facilities or personnel in Gaza and to ensure safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid and medical supplies,” he added.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation in Gaza and call for an immediate ceasefire. However, previous attempts to broker a truce have failed, as both sides have rejected each other’s conditions.