Gaza Hospital Director Released After Seven Months in Israeli Detention

Gaza Hospital Director Released After Seven Months in Israeli Detention
Gaza Hospital Director Released After Seven Months in Israeli Detention

On Monday, Israel released Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the head of Gaza’s largest hospital, after holding him for more than seven months without charge. The move sparked immediate protests in Israel, highlighting the polarized views on the ongoing conflict.

Abu Salmiya, director of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, was arrested in late November during an attempt to evacuate patients while the hospital was under siege by the Israeli army. The military said he was being questioned about Hamas activities at the hospital.

His release has amplified differing perspectives on the war. Human rights groups have criticized his continued detention without charge as indicative of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners, who are often held without trial. In contrast, some Israeli officials have condemned his release, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for mishandling the war.

In a press conference in Khan Younis, a visibly weakened Abu Salmiya said he had been severely tortured, including a broken finger and repeated beatings. The Israeli Prison Service, which ran the Nafha prison where he was last held, denied any knowledge of the allegations, saying all prisoners were treated legally.

The release also highlighted tensions between Israel’s security forces and its political leadership. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, criticized the government for failing to provide sufficient detention space, forcing it to release detainees deemed less dangerous to accommodate new arrests.

Netanyahu’s office distanced itself from the decision, calling it a grave mistake and moral failing, and announced an investigation to prevent such mistakes. The Israel Prison Service blamed the decision on the army and the Shin Bet, while the army denied custody of Abu Salmiya upon his release.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir called the release a security failure, blaming Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar. Gallant’s office responded, saying the release did not require his approval.

Opposition leader Benny Gantz has criticized the government, calling it a moral failure and further evidence of Netanyahu’s inability to lead. Israeli politicians and security services have increasingly expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the war and its lack of a post-war strategy.

Abu Salmiya’s release coincided with continued militant activity in Gaza. On Monday, at least 20 rockets were fired from southern Gaza toward Israel, prompting Israeli artillery responses.

Netanyahu suggested that the most intense fighting may be coming to an end, although the conflict could persist at a lower intensity for an extended period. «We are advancing toward the end of the phase of eliminating the terrorist army of Hamas; we will continue to target its remnants,» he said.

HaMoked, an Israeli human rights group, reports that more than 9,600 Palestinians are detained under Israeli national security and military laws, the highest number in more than a decade, many of whom are being held without charge and are allegedly being abused.

Israeli authorities indicate that of the approximately 4,000 people detained in Gaza from October 7 to the end of May, approximately 1,500 have been released and returned to the enclave.

Abu Salmiya was arrested in November while traveling with a UN ambulance convoy to evacuate patients from Al-Shifa Hospital and was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint. The Israeli military said he was arrested because of evidence suggesting the hospital under his management was being used by Hamas as a command center, a claim denied by Hamas and hospital officials.

Despite facing several court cases, Abu Salmiya said he has never been charged. The Israeli raid on Al-Shifa has become a symbol of the war, with many Gazans viewing the attack on medical facilities as a disregard for Palestinian life. Israelis, however, see it as evidence of Hamas’s exploitation of civilian infrastructure for military purposes.

After the initial raid, Israeli troops withdrew from Al-Shifa, but returned in late March, sparking two weeks of fighting that resulted in extensive damage to the hospital and numerous casualties.

Gaza’s Health Ministry has called for the release of all detained health workers, citing the arrest and ill-treatment of more than 310 health workers since the start of the war. The number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons has increased since the October 7 Hamas attack, with Israeli forces arresting hundreds in Gaza and the West Bank. Human rights groups criticize the arbitrary arrests and inhumane detention conditions, while Israel maintains that detainees are treated according to international standards.