Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes lie on the floor at the Indonesian hospital after Al Shifa hospital went out of service.—Reuters
Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes lie on the floor at the Indonesian hospital after Al Shifa hospital went out of service.—Reuters

• Tel Aviv claims finding weapons and other gadgets, Hamas calls evidence ‘planted’
• BBC crew embedded with IDF not allowed to speak to patients, doctors
• WHO says evacuation options complicated by communication blackout
• No water, food or baby milk available at Gaza’s largest hospital

GAZA: Fear grows for patients inside after Israel renewed its military operation at Gaza’s largest hospital, targeting what it claimed was a Hamas command centre – hidden beneath thousands of patients, medics and displaced people – an allegation rejected by both Palestinian authorities and directors at the hospital.

Israeli forces raided the Shifa medical complex “for the second time in 24 hours” using bulldozers and military vehicles, reported WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency.

The Shehab news agency reported early on Thursday that Israeli tanks raided Al Shifa from the complex’s southern side and that gunfire was heard in the area.

The Israeli military, which had previously accused Hamas of building a network of tunnels under the hospital, made no mention of finding any tunnel entrances in Al Shifa.

In addition, Human Rights Watch also noted on Thursday that Tel Aviv had shown no evidence thus far that would justify stripping Shifa hospital of its protected status.

While US President Joe Biden said Hamas had committed a war crime by housing “their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital”, he warned Israel to be “incredibly careful” of harming civilians during the operation.

Israel’s army claimed an initial raid in Al-Shifa had uncovered military equipment, weapons and what spokesman Daniel Hagari described as “an operational headquarters with comms equipment”.

A video narrated by another Israeli army spokesman showed rifles, ammunition and ammo magazines inside an area he identified as Al-Shifa’s MRI scanner building.

But the health ministry in Gaza said the Israeli military did not find any weapons when it raided the hospital.

This claim was also denied by Hamas, a spokesperson for whom accused Israeli forces of planting “weapons, clothes and tools … in the hospital in a scandalous manner”.

The health ministry spokesperson also said that the Israeli raid had “destroyed the radiology service, and bombed the burns and dialysis departments” in Al Shifa hospital.

Gaza’s health ministry said Israeli soldiers had removed dead bodies from the hospital grounds and destroyed cars parked there, but they were not letting staff or patients leave.

Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said there was no water, food nor baby milk in Shifa, which was packed with 650 patients and about 7,000 people displaced by weeks of Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardments.

Israeli forces brought a BBC film crew into the hospital overnight and showed it some rifles they said were found there, but the British broadcaster said Israeli escorts had barred its team from interacting with patients or staff.

Dr Nahed Abu Taaema, director of the Nasser Hospital in Gaza’s main southern city Khan Younis, told Reuters all contact with colleagues inside Shifa had been cut off since Wednesday.

“The situation in Al Shifa is very dangerous and catastrophic. Now our patients in the ICU and the premature babies are being subject to danger.” He said some had died in the past days and more could die in the coming days.

Evacuation options

Meanwhile, the United Nations was looking for ways to evacuate Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, but said that their options were limited by security and logistical constraints.

One obstacle is that the Palestinian Red Crescent lacks sufficient fuel for its ambulances within Gaza to evacuate patients, WHO regional emergencies director Rick Brennan told Reuters.

There are also not enough ambulances currently available, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem said.

The WHO understood that there were still about 600 patients including 27 in critical condition at Shifa hospital, which Israeli forces entered this week following a days-long siege, Brennan said.

“We are looking at the case for full medical evacuation but there are a lot of security concerns, there are a lot of logistics constraints. Our options are rather limited but we hope to have some better news in the next 24 hours or so,” he said.

Those given priority in an evacuation would include the critically ill and 36 newborn babies who lost access to incubators because of lack of fuel to generate power, he said.

Plans for an evacuation had been complicated by the fact that communications with the hospital had been cut most of the time, Brennan said.

“The idea is that we would bring the majority of patients over days or weeks from Shifa,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2023

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