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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hamas hunkers down in command HQ at hospital

TEL AVIV — Israel has learned that the Hamas military and political leaders are operating from a makeshift headquarters in a hospital in the Gaza Strip.

Officials said the Hamas War Council as well as political leaders were using Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as their headquarters, Middle East Newsline reported. They said a handful of Hamas commanders were issuing orders, paying salaries and discussing war strategy in the offices of hospital administrators.

"Shifa Hospital, which is situated in the more wealthy western part of Gaza City, is a very big hospital, but you can hear from the Palestinians who visit there — it is somewhat of an open secret — that Hamas commanders walk around the hospital, in some instances wearing doctors' robes," Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said. "In some cases the Hamas commanders kick medical teams out of rooms so that they can hold meetings."

On Jan. 12, Dichter, a former director of the Israel Security Agency, said Hamas has used the hospital as its headquarters to avoid being targeted by Israel's military. The hospital is the largest in the Gaza Strip.

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"On Saturday, Jan. 10, which is the day salaries are distributed in Gaza, several Hamas commanders who cannot come out of their hiding places were given their salaries at their hiding places," Dichter said in a radio interview. "But those commanders who can move around Gaza made their way to Shifa Hospital to receive their salaries."

Officials said Hamas leaders were also using other hospitals as well as United Nations clinics and schools as weapons bunkers and shelters. They said some Hamas leaders were hiding in unidentified foreign missions in Gaza City.

"UN schools in Gaza long ago stopped being just schools," Dichter said. "All these services and places are refuge for Hamas terrorists and commanders."

Officials said Israel could not attack Shifa without a massive ground operation. They said the government has sought to wind down army activities in the Gaza Strip.

"Shifa is in the middle of a very crowded area in Gaza, and you would have to get through half-a-million Gazans to get to the hospital and arrest Hamas people there," Dichter said. "So that's not doable. Striking the hospital is out of the question for obvious reasons. So in this case we have to just bite our lips."

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