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Israel Frees Gazan Hospital Official Whose Detention Sparked Outrage: Latest News

Israel released the director of Gaza’s largest hospital on Monday after more than seven months of detention, Palestinian health officials said, a move that drew an immediate outcry in Israel even though no charges against him have been made public.

Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the director of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, was taken into custody in late November during an Israeli military raid on the facility, an early focus of its invasion of Gaza. Human rights groups have said his prolonged detention was a sign of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners, while some Israeli officials on Monday denounced the decision to release him as an example of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mismanagement of the war.

Speaking at a news conference after his release, Dr. Abu Salmiya, visibly frail, said that he had been released and returned to Gaza along with nearly 50 other Palestinian detainees, including other doctors and health ministry staff members.

“We were subjected to extreme torture,” said Dr. Abu Salmiya, adding that his finger had been broken and that he had been beaten over the head repeatedly. The Israeli Prison Service, which operates the Nafha Prison where he was last held, said in a statement that it was not aware of Dr. Abu Salmiya’s claims, and that “all prisoners are detained according to the law.”

Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the director of Al-Shifa Hospital, behind the lectern, speaks to reporters in southern Gaza after his release from Israeli custody on Monday.Credit…Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Dr. Abu Salmiya told reporters that no charges had been brought against him, and that he had been brought in for three or four trials that resulted in no indictments.

He was detained while traveling with a United Nations convoy of ambulances that was evacuating patients from the hospital to southern Gaza, and was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, the Gaza health ministry and the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

At the time, the Israeli military said that Dr. Abu Salmiya had been taken for questioning “following evidence showing that Al-Shifa Hospital, under his direct management, served as a Hamas command-and-control center” — an accusation that Hamas and hospital officials have denied. A spokesman for the Israeli military told reporters at the time that Dr. Abu Salmiya had not been charged, and that the military was not suggesting he was affiliated with Hamas.

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.

The ruins of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in March.Credit…Avishag Shaar-Yashuv for The New York Times

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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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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