Release of Gazan Hospital Director Draws Outcry in Israel


The raid turned Al-Shifa into a symbol of the war, and many Gazans saw Israel’s targeting of medical institutions as a sign of disregard for Palestinian life. Dr. Abu Salmiya’s detention reinforced that view. To Israelis, the hospital was an example of Hamas’s exploitation of civilian infrastructure for military purposes.

The Israeli military later publicized some evidence to support its case that Hamas operated from within the Shifa complex, including by showing reporters a fortified tunnel constructed underneath its grounds. An investigation by The New York Times suggested that Hamas had used the site for cover and stored weapons there. The Israeli military, however, has struggled to prove its assertion that Hamas maintained a command-and-control center under the facility.

Dr. Abu Salmiya’s release caused turmoil among Israeli ministers and members of Parliament who were already at odds over Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the war. Benny Gantz, a former key member of Mr. Netanyahu’s war cabinet who quit the government last month, called the decision a “moral and ethical operational error,” and accused the prime minister of releasing Dr. Abu Salmiya to free up “space and budget” for other Palestinian prisoners.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, said in a statement that the government had failed to meet its demand for additional space in detention centers to allow for the arrests of more “terrorists in Israel and the Gaza Strip.” Because of that, the Shin Bet and the military had been required to release a certain number of detainees that posed “a lesser danger” from Gaza to “clear places of incarceration,” it said.

After its initial raid of Al-Shifa in November, Israeli troops withdrew from the area. But in late March, after the military said that remnants of Hamas’s military wing had regrouped there, Israeli forces returned to the hospital, touching off two weeks of combat in which they said they killed around 200 Palestinians and arrested hundreds of others.

The fighting badly damaged many of the hospital’s main buildings. Bodies were left scattered in and around the complex, according to a doctor there and a spokesman for the Palestine Civil Defense.

The health ministry in Gaza said in a statement on Monday that Dr. Abu Salmiya had been released along with Dr. Issam Abu Ajwa, a surgeon at Al-Shifa. The statement called for the release of all other detained medical workers from Gaza who were “arrested and abused simply because they were treating the sick and wounded.”

The health ministry said on Sunday that at least 310 medical workers in Gaza had been detained by Israeli forces since the start of the war, but did not specify how many had been released.

Abu Bakr Bashir contributed reporting from London, Myra Noveck from Jerusalem and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.



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