Patients, staff flee as hospital evacuated
Military searches for command centre as dozens killed at refugee camp
NAJIB JOBAIN, BASSEM MROUE AND SAMY MAGDY AHMAD HASABALLAH GETTY IMAGES
Only Israeli troops and handful of health workers remain at Gaza facility
KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA STRIP Hundreds of patients, medical staff and people displaced by Israel’s war against Hamas left Gaza’s largest hospital Saturday, with one evacuee describing a panicked and chaotic scene as Israeli forces searched and face-scanned men among those leaving and took some away.
Israel’s military has been searching Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital for a Hamas command centre that it alleges is located under the facility — a claim Hamas and hospital staff deny. The evacuation, which Israel says was voluntary, left behind only Israeli troops and a small number of health workers to care for those too sick to move.
“We left at gunpoint,” Mahmoud Abu Auf told The Associated Press by phone after he and his family left the crowded hospital. “Tanks and snipers were everywhere inside and outside.” He said he saw Israeli troops detain three men.
Elsewhere in northern Gaza, dozens of people were killed in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp when what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded UN shelter in the main combat zone.
“The scenes were horrifying. Corpses of women and children were on the ground. Others were screaming for help,” Radwan said by phone. AP photos from a local hospital showed more than 20 bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets.
The Israeli military, which had warned Jabaliya residents and others in a social media post in Arabic to leave, said only that its troops were active in the area “with the aim of hitting terrorists.”
“Receiving horrifying images & footage of scores of people killed and injured in another UNRWA school sheltering thousands of displaced,” Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, said on X.
In southern Gaza, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building on the outskirts of the town of Khan Younis, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel’s forces have begun operating in eastern Gaza City while continuing its mission in western areas. “With every passing day, there are fewer places where Hamas terrorists can operate,” he said, adding that the militants would learn that in southern Gaza “in the coming days.”
His comments were the clearest indication yet that the military plans to expand its offensive to southern Gaza, where Israel had told Palestinian civilians to flee early in the war. The evacuation zone is already crammed with displaced civilians, and it was not clear where they would go if the offensive moves closer.
What led to the Shifa Hospital evacuation wasn’t immediately known. Israel’s military said it was asked by the hospital’s director to help those who would like to leave to do so and that it did not order an evacuation. But Medhat Abbas, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, said the military ordered the facility cleared and gave the hospital an hour to get people out.
A Shifa physician, Ahmed Mokhallalati, said on social media that about 120 patients remained, including some in intensive care and premature babies, and that he and five other doctors were staying.
Twenty-five of Gaza’s hospitals aren’t functioning due to a lack of fuel, damage and other problems, and the other 11 are only partially operational, according to the World Health Organization.
Internet and phone service were restored Saturday to Gaza.
More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that the Israeli military would have “full freedom” to operate within the territory after the war. The comments again put him in conflict with U.S. visions for a postwar era in Gaza.
In an op-ed published Saturday in The Washington Post, U.S. President Joe Biden said Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited and governed under a “revitalized Palestinian Authority” while world leaders work toward a peaceful two-state solution. Netanyahu has long opposed a Palestinian state.
The U.S. is providing weapons and intelligence support to Israel in its offensive to root out Hamas.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited