Release of Gaza hospital director sparks protests in Israel

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

The Israeli military later released some evidence to support its claim that Hamas operated inside the Shifa compound, including showing reporters a fortified tunnel built beneath its grounds. A New York Times investigation suggested that Hamas had used the site as a shelter and stored weapons there. The Israeli military, however, struggled to substantiate its claim that Hamas maintained a command and control center beneath the facility.

Dr. Abu Salmiya's release has sent shockwaves through 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 left 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 request for additional space in detention centers to allow for the arrest of more “terrorists in Israel and the Gaza Strip.” Because of this, the Shin Bet and the army were forced to release a number of detainees who posed “less danger” from Gaza in order to “clear the places of detention,” it said.

After the initial raid on Al-Shifa in November, Israeli troops withdrew from the area. But in late March, after the army said remnants of Hamas’s military wing had regrouped there, Israeli forces returned to the hospital, sparking two weeks of fighting in which they said they killed about 200 Palestinians and arrested hundreds more.

The fighting severely damaged several of the hospital's main buildings. Bodies were left strewn in and around the compound, according to a doctor there and a spokesman for the Palestinian Civil Defense.

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

The Health Ministry said on Sunday that at least 310 health workers in Gaza have been detained by Israeli forces since the start of the war, but did not say how many have been released.

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

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