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Israeli Forces Search Nasser Hospital in Gaza for Remains of Hostages


Israel said on Friday that it would not try to force Palestinians from southern Gaza into Egypt, seeking to calm Palestinian fears of a mass displacement even as Israeli forces pressed ahead with a military operation inside the largest hospital in the area.

After months of speculation that the Israeli invasion of Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks would end with millions of Gazans being pushed into northeastern Egypt, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Friday that no one would be forced to leave.

The announcement appeared to reverse secret Israeli efforts earlier in the war to promote the idea of sending millions of Gazans into Egypt, a move that Palestinians feared might lock them out of their homeland and led to warnings that Egypt might suspend its peace treaty with Israel. Photographs also show that Egypt has started construction near the border, which some fear is meant to house a sudden rush of refugees from Gaza.

In a statement, Mr. Gallant said: “The State of Israel has no intention of evacuating Palestinian civilians to Egypt. We respect and value our peace agreement with Egypt, which is a cornerstone of stability in the region as well as an important partner.”

Mr. Gallant does not always coordinate his statements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the prime minister’s office later released a similar statement, echoing Mr. Gallant’s remarks.

Mr. Gallant’s intervention came amid growing concern from international leaders that Israel’s planned operation along the Gaza-Egypt border, where the majority of Gazans have sought shelter after fleeing their homes elsewhere in Gaza, would end in catastrophe.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said on Friday that the planned maneuver could end in an “unprecedented humanitarian disaster,” becoming the latest foreign leader to speak out against displacing Palestinians into Egypt.

The statements came as Israeli special forces were combing southern Gaza’s largest hospital in search of hostages’ remains on Friday, and as Gazan officials announced that a power outage at the medical center had caused the deaths of five Palestinians in the critical care unit.

The raid has left the hospital, the Nasser Medical Center, barely functional at a time when the overall health system in Gaza is close to collapse. But Israel says that the operation is necessary and that the complex was used to house hostages and militants, accusations the hospital denied.

Mr. Gallant said soldiers had arrested 70 militants at the hospital, including 20 who he said had participated in the Oct. 7 attacks.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said that electric generators had cut out and that all power was lost at the hospital but did not specify the reason. The ministry said on Facebook that the Israeli military was in control of the complex, which it entered early Thursday. On Friday, the World Health Organization said it was urgently requesting access there.

The Israeli military said in a statement on Friday that during its search of the hospital, it had detained dozens of people for questioning. It also said its troops had found mortar shells and grenades belonging to Hamas in the area.

The Israeli military said later that during the search, troops had found medication bearing the names of Israeli hostages. The source of the drugs and how they were used was “being looked into,” the military said. While Israel and Hamas reached a deal last month that would allow medications to be delivered to Israeli hostages, it was unclear if any had reached the captives.

The goals of the raid on the hospital were to check intelligence that the bodies of two hostages were there, to arrest or kill Hamas militants, and to detain the family members of senior Hamas officials, said a defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under protocol.

Since Tuesday, Israeli forces have interrogated all people leaving the hospital to determine whether they are Hamas members, according to three security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to communicate with the media.

As of Friday evening, the army had not announced that it had found the bodies of hostages.

Neither the Israeli statements nor those of the Gazan authorities could be independently verified. Communications with people inside the Nasser complex, in the city of Khan Younis, have been extremely spotty since Israel’s military pushed into its grounds, smashing through the perimeter and entering the compound as explosions and gunfire rang out.

The Gaza Health Ministry said on Friday morning that the cut to the hospital’s power supply was endangering the lives of six adult patients in critical care and three infants in incubators who were dependent on oxygen. About 40 minutes later, the ministry said three of the patients had died. The deaths of two others who had been dependent on oxygen were announced later.

Oxygen is pumped from a central station to patients’ beds, a process that requires power, Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the ministry, said in an interview.

He noted that 186 patients, 95 health professionals and 176 other people were still in the hospital. Among the remaining patients, Mr. al-Qidra said 18 were in particularly concerning condition.

Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the W.H.O., could not confirm the reports that some patients had died after electric generators at the hospital had cut out and power was lost. But he said there was an urgent need for fuel to operate the hospital’s generators and to ensure the continuation of lifesaving services.

He called the reports emerging from the hospital “deeply alarming” and said the agency “fears for the safety” of the people still inside.

“There are still critically injured and sick patients inside the hospital,” Mr. Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva. “We are asking urgently for access.”

Before the raid began on Thursday, the W.H.O. had reported that the hospital had 402 patients, including around 80 in intensive care.

Videos showed chaotic scenes in the hospital’s smoke-filled corridors, with parts of the ceiling collapsing and wire and beams protruding as gurneys were rushed past.

On Friday the status of talks aimed at reaching a new cease-fire agreement and an exchange of hostages kept by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel was unclear.

After officials from a number of countries, including Israel and the United States, failed to reach a breakthrough on a potential deal in talks in Cairo on Tuesday, an Egyptian and a United States official, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said discussions involving lower-level officials would continue for three days.

On Wednesday, the Israeli news media reported that Mr. Netanyahu had told his negotiators not to participate further in the discussions.

Officials involved in the talks did not speak publicly about their progress on Friday, making it unclear whether they would continue, and at what level, after the three-day period.

The raid on the Nasser complex came as Israel continued to accuse Hamas of using hospitals for military purposes.

Israel’s raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza in November revealed a stone-and-concrete tunnel shaft below. And in January the army said it had detected the launch of mortar fire from the Nasser complex toward Israeli soldiers.

Nasser had been the largest functioning hospital left in Gaza. Two days before the raid, the Israeli military began ordering the evacuation of the thousands of civilians who were sheltering at the complex, setting off alarm from international observers.

“Nasser is the backbone of the health system in southern Gaza,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., wrote on the social platform X earlier in the week. “It must be protected.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva and Ben Hubbard from Istanbul.



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