Palestinian medics say they are increasingly afraid for the lives of hundreds of patients and medical staff at Gaza’s largest hospital, as they remain cut off from all links to the outside world after Israeli forces entered on Wednesday.
Gaza’s health ministry said patients and staff have not been allowed to leave Al-Shifa Hospital despite there being no water, food or baby milk at the site, which was packed with around 600 patients and about 7,000 people displaced by weeks of Israeli airstrikes and artillery bombardments.
“Medical teams, patients and displaced people are fighting death due to the lack of any basic life necessities. The occupation forces are now present in the complex, but they did not provide any fuel for the hospital to continue work,” ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said in a statement.
“We demand the occupation forces leave the Al-Shifa complex so that it can get back to work.”
Medics have previously said dozens of patients — including three premature babies — had died from of a lack of fuel and basic supplies during a days-long siege that culminated with Israeli forces entering the hospital early on Wednesday.
That night, Israeli soldiers searched the facility for evidence to support the nation’s assertion that Hamas uses the hospital to hide an underground military base and medical patients as human shields — statements Hamas has denied.
As of Thursday, Israel had yet to produce evidence of what it had claimed was a vast Hamas headquarters in tunnels beneath the facility.
The Israeli Defence Forces released a video in which a soldier toured a hospital building, showing three bags with guns and flak jackets he said had been found stashed there, as well as several other rifles in a closet, and a laptop computer.
Hamas said the video was staged. Other Palestinians said that even on its face it depicted nothing like the vast underground militant headquarters complex that Israel had claimed was inside the compound.
“These are weak pretexts. There is nothing for the resistance inside medical institutions,” said Dr. Nahed Abu Taaema, the director of the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, who said medics were alarmed for their colleagues at Shifa after losing contact with them since Wednesday.
Options ‘limited’ for hospital evacuation: WHO
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said it was trying to arrange a medical evacuation of patients from Shifa, but was hindered by security concerns, logistic constraints, and the inability to communicate with anyone there. WHO officials said 27 of the roughly 600 patients inside were in critical condition while 36 were babies.
“Our options are rather limited but we hope to have some better news in the next 24 hours or so,” WHO regional emergencies director Rick Brennan told Reuters.
Elsewhere, Israel ordered civilians to leave four towns in the southern part of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, raising fears war could spread to areas where it had told people they would be safe.
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Leaflets dropped overnight from aircraft told civilians to leave the towns of Bani Shuhaila, Khuzaa, Abassan and Qarara, on the eastern edge of Khan Younis, the main southern city. The towns, collectively home to more than 100,000 people in peacetime, are now sheltering tens of thousands more who fled other areas.
“The acts of Hamas terrorist group require the defence forces to act against them in the areas of your residence,” the leaflets said. “For your safety, you need to evacuate your places of residence immediately and head to known shelters.”
Residents said the area came under heavy bombardment overnight.
Israel has already ordered the evacuation of the entire northern half of Gaza before sending in its ground forces at the end of October. Long processions of people clutching just a few possessions have made their way south each day under the eyes of Israeli soldiers during six-hour “tactical pauses” to allow residents to leave.
The United Nations says around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been made homeless, most of them sheltering in towns in the south, since Israel began retaliation against Hamas for a deadly rampage in southern Israeli towns.
Hamas militants burst through the fence around Gaza on Oct. 7 in an assault that Israel says killed 1,200 people in the deadliest day in its history, including several Canadian citizens. Around 240 hostages were dragged back to Gaza.
Since then, Israel has pounded Gaza with air strikes and cut off food and fuel. Gaza health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations said more than 11,000 people have been confirmed killed, more than 40 per cent of them children, although that number hasn’t been updated in several days during the recent escalation in fighting.
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