Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip, has become a scene of horror and death after being invaded by the Israeli military four days ago, according to U.N. workers who visited the complex for an hour on Saturday. They reported that several patients had died due to the disruption of medical services and that about 300 patients, including 32 critically ill babies, were still trapped inside the hospital.
The World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, said that most of the patients and civilians who had sought refuge at the hospital had fled south earlier that day, following an evacuation order from the Israeli military. However, Israeli officials claimed that they had cooperated with the hospital authorities to facilitate the safe passage of those who wanted to leave Al-Shifa, and that they had provided food and water to the remaining people.
The Israeli military seized control of the hospital and Gaza City, the most populous area in Gaza, last week, in a major escalation of the six-week-long war with Hamas. Israel has alleged that the hospital and the tunnels underneath it have been used by Hamas as a base for storing weapons and planning attacks, including the one on Oct. 7 that killed around 1,200 people in southern Israel.
Israel has not yet presented any public evidence to support its accusations about Hamas’ use of the hospital and the underground network, despite promising to do so after capturing the hospital last week. The United States has endorsed Israel’s claims about the tunnels, but has also urged Israel to do more to minimize civilian casualties as the death toll mounts in Gaza.
Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said in a statement that Israeli forces were still conducting operations at Al-Shifa, with the main objective of finding information about the hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7. The fate of the more than 200 people who Israel says were abducted by Hamas in that attack remains unclear. The United States has been trying to negotiate a deal to release some of the hostages, but no agreement has been reached.
Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, which killed about 1,200 people in Israel, has drawn widespread condemnation. More than 11,000 people have died in Gaza, many of them children, according to the local authorities.
Admiral Hagari said that Israeli troops had discovered a shaft on Friday night and were searching the underground area it led to. He said that the military would release images and video from that operation.
The United Nations said that heavy fighting was still ongoing near the hospital, and that its team had witnessed signs of shelling and gunfire inside the complex. The U.N. workers also saw a mass grave at the entrance, where they were told that more than 80 people had been buried.
The W.H.O. said that it was working to transfer the patients and the health workers who were still at Al-Shifa to other hospitals in Gaza. It stressed the need to restore the functionality of Al-Shifa and all other hospitals in Gaza to provide essential health care services.
The W.H.O. reiterated its call for an immediate cease-fire, a sustained delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, the unconditional release of all hostages and a stop to attacks on health care and other vital civilian infrastructure.
Israel has instructed Gazans to move south, away from Hamas strongholds, claiming that they would be safer there. However, those areas have also been targeted by Israeli airstrikes. On Saturday, parts of southern Gaza were hit by airstrikes, according to the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority’s news agency. The Israeli military did not confirm the strikes immediately.”