Finger broken, tortured with dogs: Director of Al Shifa hospital released by Israel recounts horrors in prison

Abu Selmia was released along with 54 other Palestinians by the Israeli army on Monday, seven months after the military raided the Al-Shifa hospital, killing several patients, medical staff and civilians including women and children.
An image grab from a file handout video released by the Hamas Media Office, shows doctor Mohammad Abu Salmiya, director of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
An image grab from a file handout video released by the Hamas Media Office, shows doctor Mohammad Abu Salmiya, director of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.(Photo | AFP)

KHAN YOUNIS: Israel released the director of Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital on Monday, seven months after the military raided the region's largest medical facility, killing several patients, medical staff and civilians including women and children. The army had claimed that the hospital was being used by Hamas as a commanding center but failed to provide any evidence substantiating it.

The release of Mohammed Abu Selmia, along with 54 other Palestinians, without charge or trial further raises questions about Israel's allegations regarding Shifa Hospital, which its forces have raided twice since the start of its nearly nine-month attack on Gaza.

Abu Selmia said he and other prisoners had been tortured and held under harsh conditions, allegations that could not be independently confirmed but matched other accounts of Palestinian detainees who have been released back into Gaza.

"Our detainees have been subjected to all kinds of torture behind bars," he said. "There was almost daily torture. Cells are broken into and prisoners are beaten." He said guards broke his finger and caused his head to bleed during beatings, in which they used batons. The doctor also shared accounts of torture using dogs.

He said the medical staff at different facilities where he was held had also taken part in the abuse "in violation of all laws." He said some detainees had limbs amputated because of poor medical care.

Abu Selmia was detained on Nov. 22 while escorting a U.N.-led evacuation of patients from the hospital. He said his detention was "politically motivated," adding that he had been brought to court at least three times but was never charged or allowed to meet with lawyers.

Israel has since raided several other Gaza hospitals on similar allegations, forcing them to shut down or dramatically reduce services even as tens of thousands have been wounded in Israeli strikes or sickened in the harsh conditions of the war. The army raided Shifa a second time earlier this year, causing heavy destruction after saying that militants had regrouped there.

Hospitals can lose their protection under international law if combatants use them for military purposes.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about why he had been released or his allegations of mistreatment. Prison authorities have previously denied such mistreating detainees.

Two far-right ministers in Israel's government meanwhile condemned Abu Selmia's release, saying it had been carried out without their consent.

Israeli forces stormed Shifa Hospital in November, alleging that Hamas had created an elaborate command and control center inside the facility. Abu Selmia and other staff denied the allegations and accused Israel of recklessly endangering thousands of patients and displaced people who were sheltering there.

The military uncovered a tunnel beneath Shifa Hospital leading to a few rooms, as well as other evidence that militants had been present inside the medical center, but the evidence fell short of what it had claimed before the raid.

Israel's attack on Gaza has so far killed over 37,800 Palestinians, including more than 15,000 children, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

Most of Gaza's population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, with many displaced multiple times as Israel continued bombardment on areas marked as "safe zones". Israeli restrictions have hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine.

An image grab from a file handout video released by the Hamas Media Office, shows doctor Mohammad Abu Salmiya, director of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.
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