(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas uses Gaza's Shifa Hospital as a meeting place and even distributed salaries to their operatives there over the weekend, Public Security Minister and former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avi Dichter said Monday morning.
Speaking on Army Radio, Dichter said, "On Saturday, January 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.
"But those commanders who can move around Gaza made their way to Shifa Hospital to receive their salaries."
Regarding Israeli intelligence reports that Hamas's leadership had taken refuge in the hospital, Dichter said, "Shifa Hospital has long ago ceased to be just a hospital, just as the UNRWA humanitarian and health services in Gaza long ago ceased to be just humanitarian services providing food and medical services."
"UN schools in Gaza long ago stopped being just schools," he added. "All these services and places are refuges for Hamas terrorists and commanders."
Asked why Israel was not acting against Shifa Hospital, Dichter answered that an attack on a hospital could not be carried out "for obvious reasons."
"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. So that's not doable," he said.
Dichter pointed out that it was common knowledge in Gaza that Hamas held meetings in the hospital.
"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," he said.
"In some cases the Hamas commanders kick medical teams out of rooms so that they can hold meetings."
In response to Dichter's comments, a UNRWA spokesman in Israel said the UN was getting mixed messages from the Israeli establishment, and that with each "flip flop" the credibility of each Israeli assertion is "diminished incrementally."
Following two attacks against UNRWA employees last week, in one of which a Palestinian aid convoy driver was killed, allegedly by Hamas snipers, UNRWA briefly suspended its humanitarian operations, but restarted them after the Israeli coordinator of government activities in the territories expressed "deep regret" for the targeting of UN workers.
"He [Amos Gilad] made it clear he wanted UNRWA's 9,000-10,000 workers to resume their humanitarian efforts," UNRWA's Chris Gunness said.
Regarding Dichter's assertion that UNRWA facilities were shelters for terrorists, Gunness said that where there was a specific complaint about a UN installation or employee, it was always investigated.
"Where any abuse of UN installations is discovered the UN carries out disciplinary action, including dismissals," Gunness said.
UNRWA keeps a list of all of its employees and cross-references them with the UN 1267 terror list as mandated by the Security Council. UNSCR 1267 concerns al-Qaida, the Taliban and any associated individuals and entities, and it works to freeze their assets. UNRWA also sends lists of all of its employees to the Israeli security establishment, a UN source said.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy when we find abuses of our facilities," Gunness said.
Dichter, in the radio interview, went on to say that Israel's goal in Operation Cast Lead was to stop the smuggling of arms into Gaza.
"This means getting Egypt to do what it should have been doing for the past eight years and didn't do," he said.
"We are now two weeks into massive firing of weapons into Israel that were not found inside the Gaza Strip but were smuggled into there. We're talking about Grad rockets, regardless of whether they were manufactured in China or Iran."
Dichter was optimistic that this goal would be achieved, and said, "The Egyptians will not be able to evade responsibility. I believe that American and European pressure will get the Egyptians to do what they have to do."
"I have no doubt that if the tables were turned, and a huge amount of weaponry whose origin was in Israel was being smuggled into Egypt from Gaza, Egypt would not be sitting quietly."