Nov. 11 (UPI) -- An Israel Defense Forces spokesman on Saturday denied widespread reports that troops were laying siege to Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, which Israeli intelligence believes provides cover for Hamas' main headquarters.
Israeli troops battled Hamas gunmen in Gaza City on Saturday and appeared to be closing in on Gaza's biggest hospital complex, where operations have been suspended due to lack of power and fuel, its director, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, told Al-Jazeera.
"We are minutes away from imminent death," he said, adding that people inside the hospital buildings ae being targeted by Israeli snipers.
What was described as a siege of the complex has put dozens of newborns being cared for incubators in danger, another Al-Shifa official told the BBC. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said one newborn baby had already died inside an incubator due to the assault.
IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, however, denied reports Israeli forces have attacked the hospital.
"There has been a lot of misinformation from Gaza today, so I want to clarify the facts," he told reporters. "There is no siege, I repeat no siege, on Shifa Hospital."
The east side of the hospital, he said, is "open for the safe passage of Gazans who wish to leave the hospital. We're speaking directly and regularly with the hospital staff."
He also said that at the request of the hospital administrators, the IDF has agreed to help the babies in the pediatric department evacuate to a safer hospital.
"We will provide the assistance needed," he said, adding, "We spoke today with the hospital's staff, and we said clearly that the IDF is not attacking the hospital. We will continue to allow patients and medical staff to move southwards in a safe manner."
The Gaza health ministry said Friday that Israel had bombed four hospitals in Gaza, including Al-Shifa, injuring several people.
Israel claims Hamas has purposely placed its main headquarters in tunnels beneath the the hospital, using it as a base for its "terrorist activity" while employing healthcare workers and patients as human shields against attacks.
"Terrorism does not belong in a hospital and the IDF will operate to uncover any terrorist infrastructure," the IDF vowed last month.
The hospital's leadership, as well as Palestinian militant group, have rejected those claims as "utter lies."
Tens of thousands of civilians seeking to escape the fighting had previously been seeking shelter around the hospital grounds, according to the Gazan ministry.
The Doctors Without Borders non-governmental organization said Saturday it is unable to contact any of its staff inside Shifa, adding, "We are extremely concerned about the safety of patients and the medical staff. Patients are still in the hospital, some in critical condition and unable to move.
"We urgently reiterate our calls to stop the attacks against hospitals and for the protection of medical facilities, medical staff, and patients."
The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli tanks were also poised outside another hospital in northern Gaza, Al-Quds.
"Israeli tanks are 20 meters away from Al-Quds Hospital," the aid workers said in a post on X. "Direct shooting at the hospital, creating a state of extreme panic and fear among 14,000 displaced people."
The activity around the hospitals came amid intense fighting in northern Gaza. The IDF said its 401st Brigade had "eliminated" approximately 150 "terrorists" and had gained control over Hamas strongholds in the area.
The army claimed on Friday to have struck 15,000 targets belonging to "terror groups" in Gaza since the start of the war on Oct. 7, seizing thousands of weapons including rockets and anti-aircraft missiles.