(WASHINGTON) — The White House said on Tuesday the U.S. has intelligence that shows Hamas has used hospitals in Gaza, including the Al-Shifa Hospital, “to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby made the announcement on Air Force One while traveling with President Joe Biden to the APEC summit in San Francisco.
It appears to be the first time the U.S. has revealed specific intelligence about how and where it says Hamas has held Israelis and Americans kidnapped when the group, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
“I can confirm for you that we have information that Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, used some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including Al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them, to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” he told reporters.
“Hamas and the Palestinian – Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PIJ, members operate a command and control node from Al-Shifa in Gaza City. They have stored weapons there, and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
Asked what evidence — or support — or sourcing he had to support the claim that he made about Hamas, Kirby responded the information comes from a “variety of intelligent sourcing.”
Israeli has been criticized for fighting near Gaza hospitals — especially the Al-Shifa Hospital — claiming Hamas was using the hospital and nearby tunnels as military command posts.
Kirby cautioned again that the alleged actions by Hamas “do not lessen Israel’s responsibilities to protect civilians in Gaza.”
“This is something that we obviously are going to continue to have an active conversation with our counterparts about.”
At about the same time as Kirby spoke, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh released a similar statement during her on-camera briefing.
“We do have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad uses some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including the Al-Shifa Hospital, as a way to conceal and support their military operations and hold hostages, they have tunnels underneath these hospitals,” said Singh. “And so Hamas and PIJ members operate a command and control node from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. They have weapons stored there and are prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against the facility.”
“This is, I’m just telling you, what we, as the intelligence community, assesses is happening in Gaza City — how Hamas is using these hospitals to operate,” she said. “But absolutely, we do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where there are innocent civilians.”
Singh described the information as an independent U.S. intelligence assessment and “newly downgraded information that we felt was important to get out today because there have been a lot of questions about the hospital and how Hamas operates and so it was important to get out there for you all, to clarify various questions.”
She could not answer questions about how U.S. intelligence had made its own assessment if it does not have personnel on the ground or if it’s based on Israeli intelligence. “I’m not just not going to get into more specifics on the intelligence I can tell you that this is information that was downgraded and collected by the intelligence community.”
“The fact that I’m reading it out to you, we feel very confident in our sourcing and what the intelligence community has gathered on this topic, but I’m just not going to go into more specifics on the Intel itself,” Singh said.
On Monday, while President Biden said he had told Israel the Al-Shifa Hospital “must be protected” from the fighting, two administration officials said the U.S. has intelligence supporting Israel’s assessment that Hamas is using Al-Shifa to shelter a command center under the medical complex — further complicating the situation on the ground.
Like other administration officials, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller declined to weigh in on Hamas’ operations surrounding Al-Shifa specifically and underscored that regardless of the terror groups’ activities, these centers were still serving vital civilian needs and must be safeguarded.
Miller also echoed national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who said that the administration believed Hamas was using hospitals in the enclave as human shields and that it was “very confident” in its intelligence on the matter without naming any particular hospital.
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