Masked Israeli troops raided two Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank on Saturday, arresting two suspected resistance fighters – one of them in critical condition.
The troops, wearing black ski masks and carrying assault rifles, entered the Nablus hospital before dawn, snatching one Palestinian from his hospital bed and finding a second hiding in a basement, pistol in hand, according to the Israeli army.
Human rights groups and Palestinians condemned the raids, fearing hospitals are no longer neutral ground in the ongoing fighting and saying that international law bans military operations in medical facilities.
The army countered that international law prevents people from seeking refuge in a hospital.
Including Saturday's raids, the army has carried out four hospital raids in the last two months and army officials said they planned to carry out more.
Doctors and staff confined
During the Nablus raids, troops pulled up in jeeps at about 03:00 (01:00 GMT) and swept into both hospitals, confining doctors and other staff to rooms for more than an hour as they kicked open doors in room-to-room searches, witnesses said.
"I opened my eyes and had an M-16 pointed in my face"
Soldiers entered the intensive care unit of Anglican Hospital and grabbed Khalid Hamid from his bed. The 25-year-old Hamas fighter was badly injured on Wednesday when explosives inside a car he was riding in went off accidentally.
Dr Annan Abd al-Hak said Hamid lost two fingers in the blast and suffered bleeding in his brain and light burns on his body.
"I explained to the soldiers how critical his condition is,"Abd al-Hak said. "Then they removed the machines from his body."
Hamid was taken in a military ambulance to Beilinson Hospital in central Israel and was in stable condition, a military source said.
Elsewhere in Nablus, troops stormed Rafidiyeh Hospital and arrested an armed member of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a resistance group with links to Yasir Arafat's Fatah group
The army said the man was healthy, but Palestinian security sources said the man was not a patient and was apparently using the hospital as a hide-out.
A US peace activist witnessed the raid in Rafidiyeh Hospital, where he was recovering from gunshot wounds to his leg, after being shot by Israeli soldiers the night before.
"Around 3 am I was woken up with a flashlight shining in my face. I opened my eyes and had an M-16 pointed in my face," said Mark Turner, 24, from Boulder, Colorado.
Cabinet minister Saib Uraiqat
called the raid a "grave measure"
Masked soldiers stood at the foot of hospital beds for more than an hour, pointing guns at staff and patients and warning people to stay quiet, he said. Phone lines were cut and soldiers ordered some of the staff to lie on the ground, Turner said.
Patients were told to put their hands in the air and a soldier filmed them, Turner said.
Israeli army spokeswoman Major Sharon Feingold said troops would continue to search hospitals when they believed resistance fighters were either there as patients or were hiding out there, she said.
"Hospitals should not be used to harbour terrorists," Feingold said.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saib Uraiqat called the raid a "grave measure."
"This is the most flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention when hospitals are not safe anymore from Israeli atrocities," Uraiqat said.
Noam Hoffstater, a spokesman for the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, said the group was disturbed by the raid. "A hospital is not supposed to be a refuge or a hiding place on the one hand, but it can't be invaded every other day," he said.