In the darkness at Al-Shifa Hospital on Thursday night, it was unclear where the shaft led or how deep it went, although the military said it had sent a drone down at least several meters. Electrical wiring was visible inside, along with a metal staircase.
Colonel Tsury acknowledged the pressure on Israel to show evidence of Hamas activity at the hospital, but said it might be days before troops descended into the shaft. He added that soldiers were methodically searching the complex and had discovered weapons, explosives and computers.
Another military official said Israeli troops had captured and interrogated a Hamas operative at the hospital, but offered no further detail.
Israel has the backing of the Biden administration in its assertion that Hamas is operating under the Al-Shifa complex. Senior U.S. officials said on Friday that they remained confident that Hamas and Palestinian militants have been using hospitals as command centers and ammunition depots, based on intercepted communications between fighters operating in the territory.
At the same time, the Biden administration has cautioned Israel not to conduct airstrikes against Gaza’s hospitals, where thousands of Palestinians continue to take refuge.
Amid pressure from European allies and a resolution by the U.N. Security Council calling for greater aid to civilians in Gaza, Israel on Friday agreed to permit two tankers of fuel to enter the Gaza Strip on a daily basis. The fuel will be used to run desalination and sewage plants, Israeli officials said.
The decision followed a request by the Biden administration and was described by Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, as a way to prevent the spread of disease among civilians and Israeli soldiers.
“We want to prevent the spread of epidemics,” Mr. Hanegbi said. “We don’t need epidemics that will hurt the civilians and our soldiers who are there. If there’s disease, the fighting will stop. We will be unable to continue given the humanitarian crisis and the international outcry.”
Until Friday, the Israeli authorities had permitted almost no additional fuel to enter Gaza since the Oct. 7 attacks.
The United Nations World Food Program warned on Thursday that the entire population of Gaza — 2.2 million, half of them children — was in need of food assistance and at risk of starvation because of a collapsed food supply chain and insufficient aid delivery.
“We are already starting to see cases of dehydration and malnutrition, which is increasing rapidly,” Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman for the program, told reporters at the U.N. “People are facing immediate possibility of starvation.”