newsIsrael at War

IDF releases 50 security prisoners, including chief of Shifa Hospital

"Only in a hostage deal, not like this," said the father of IDF lookout Cpl. Noa Marciano, who was murdered in Gaza, of Muhammad Abu Salmiya's release.

Israeli special forces conduct searches at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Israeli special forces conduct searches at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: IDF.

The Israel Defense Forces has released some 50 security prisoners from the Gaza Strip, including Shifa Hospital director Muhammad Abu Salmiya, Israeli authorities confirmed on Monday.

The prisoners had all been held at the Sde Teiman military base in southern Israel.

Following his release, Abu Salmiya called on Hamas to negotiate the release of additional Palestinian terrorists, saying: “There needs to be a clear statement by the resistance and the Arab nations in order to release the prisoners. The prisoners need to be present, on the table, in every negotiation until the prisons are emptied.”

The IDF move led to an immediate backlash from government ministers and the family of slain IDF soldier Noa Marciano, who was taken hostage on Oct. 7 and murdered by a doctor at Shifa Hospital.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a member of the Security Cabinet, slammed the security establishment’s “recklessness” in a government WhatsApp group.

“It’s time the prime minister stops [Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant and the Israel Security Agency [Shin Bet] director from [implementing] independent policies contradicting the positions of the Cabinet,” wrote Ben-Gvir, Ynet reported.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli also attacked the decision, according to Ynet writing: “Why is this man, in whose hospital hostages were murdered and a Hamas command center operated, being released?”

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi piled on the criticism: “Israel needs new security leadership that will be committed to the spirit and bravery of the soldiers just like the prime minister is committed to this.”

In a public post on his Facebook account, bereaved father Avi Marciano wrote, “Sorry, my child, that even now they continue to neglect you,” adding that he would be willing to accept the release of those responsible for Noa’s murder “only in a hostage deal, not like this.”

“Noa was abandoned before Oct. 7 when they [the IDF] didn’t listen to her. She was abandoned on Oct. 7 when they didn’t save her,” he said. “And now the state has decided to release the person responsible for her murder.”

The IDF recovered Marciano’s body in mid-November from a building adjacent to Shifa, Gaza’s largest medical center. Also found next to the hospital was the corpse of another Israeli hostage, Yehudit Weiss.

Marciano’s parents subsequently revealed that a doctor murdered their daughter. “They chose to murder her instead of taking care of her. It was a doctor who did it, in a hospital. She was injured by air force bombings and was taken to Shifa,” Avi and Adi Marciano said.

Israeli forces arrested Abu Salmiya on Nov. 23, along with several of his staff members, as they tried to flee southward via an IDF humanitarian corridor.

“In the hospital, under his management, there was extensive Hamas terrorist activity. Findings of his involvement in terrorist activity will determine whether he will be subject to further ISA [Shin Bet] questioning,” the IDF said in a statement at the time.

‘Solution to the prison-space crisis’

Gallant and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced themselves on Monday afternoon from the decision to release Abu Salmiya, blaming the Shin Bet and Israel’s High Court.

“The procedure for incarcerating security prisoners and their release is under the Shin Bet and the Israel Prison Service, and is not subject to the approval of the defense minister,” Gallant said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s office stated, “The decision to release the prisoners followed discussions at the High Court on a petition against the detention of prisoners at the Sde Teiman detention facility.

“The identity of the released prisoners is determined independently by security officials based on their professional considerations,” said the premier’s office, adding that he ordered an investigation.

The Shin Bet responded by saying it ordered the IDF to release the security prisoners amid a lack of space and only after “examining the perceived danger of all the detainees.

“The incarceration crisis leads to the cancellation of arrests of suspects involved in terror activities on a daily basis and to a direct harm to the security of the state,” the internal security agency charged. “Without an immediate solution to the prison-space crisis, arrests will continue to be canceled and detainees will continue to be released.”

The Shin Bet stated that Abu Salmiya “met all the requirements [for release] regarding the level of danger he poses” but it would nevertheless probe the decision to free him.

The Prison Service, under the authority of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, stressed that “contrary to the false claims that have been published in recent hours, those who decided to release the director of Shifa Hospital were the IDF and Shin Bet, and not the IPS.”

The IDF has provided extensive evidence that Hamas used Shifa and other hospitals in Gaza for its terrorist activities. U.S. spy agencies have verified claims that Hamas and other terrorist organizations used Shifa Hospital as a command center and to hold hostages.

The terrorist group held at least three of the roughly 250 hostages it kidnapped on Oct. 7 at Shifa, the IDF has said.

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