Israeli ground forces were battling Hamas near Gaza City’s largest hospital on Sunday – as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the all-out assault was bearing fruit in the possible release of nearly 240 people taken hostage by the group. terrorist group.
The Israeli military began exchanging fire with Hamas fighters this weekend around Al-Shifa hospital, where Israel accused the terrorist organization of harboring a command post through its massive system underground tunnels.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said the fighting had left the hospital without fuel, leading to the deaths of three premature babies and four other patients. The lack of electricity also left 36 other infants at risk of death, he added.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, described the situation at the hospital as “disastrous and perilous.”
“It’s been 3 days without power, water and very poor internet connection, which has severely affected our ability to provide essential care,” he wrote on X.
“The constant shooting and shelling in the region has exacerbated an already critical situation. “The world cannot remain silent while hospitals, which should be shelters, turn into scenes of death, devastation and despair,” Ghebreyesus added.
Netanyahu told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Israel had offered to provide fuel to the hospital, but “they refused it.”
The prime minister also doubled down on his country’s strategy of using military might to pressure Hamas into releasing hostages taken during the group’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7 – saying such efforts are now materializing as the IDF continues its ground incursion.
“We heard there was an imminent deal of this or that kind, and then we learned it was all fake. But as soon as we started the ground operation, that started to change,” Netanyahu said of the negotiations.
“It’s the only thing that could create a deal and if a deal is available, well, we’ll talk about it when it’s there,” he added, noting that “a lot” was currently on the table.
“We will announce it if it is feasible,” he said.
The Biden administration confirmed that a “possible agreement” for the release of the hostages was being discussed.
While the deal remained in limbo, the IDF and Hamas continued to clash in Gaza, with a humanitarian crisis unfolding at Shifa Hospital and both sides blaming each other for Palestinian civilians caught in the middle of the fighting.
The Israeli army said on Sunday it would help evacuate babies from the hospital after the deaths of the three newborns, as well as create routes for patients and refugees to flee Shifa, as well as hospitals in Rantisi and Nasser.
“We obviously exercise caution when it comes to hospitals. But we are also not going to grant immunity to terrorists,” Netanyahu said Sunday in an interview with CNN.
“I think any loss (of life) is a tragedy. And the blame should be directly attributed to Hamas, because it prevents it from leaving the war zone, sometimes at gunpoint,” he added.
Despite evacuation routes, Gaza officials say airstrikes have continued near hospitals, with a recent bombing killing three people, including a doctor.
Health Ministry undersecretary Munir al-Boursh told Al Jazeera that the airstrike also destroyed several houses adjacent to the hospital complex.
“There are wounded people in the house and we cannot reach them,” he said on television, saying Israeli snipers were shooting at any movement from inside the hospital. “We can’t stick our heads out the window.”
Muhammed Zaqout, director of Gaza’s hospitals, noted that the death toll had not been updated since Friday as officials were unable to reach hospitals surrounded by Israeli soldiers and shelling.
“The situation is extremely dire,” he said. “Ambulances are unable to reach people under the rubble. »
Based on the previous count, the Gaza Health Ministry estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, the majority of them women and minors.
Ghebreyesus noted, however, that after the WHO was able to re-establish contact with the hospital on Sunday, officials confirmed that “tragically, the number of deceased patients increased significantly.”
It came as the European Union called for “an immediate pause in hostilities” to prevent further damage to hospitals and allow civilians and hostages to flee Gaza safely.
“These hostilities are having a serious impact on hospitals and leading to terrible consequences among civilians and medical staff,” the EU said in a statement.
As European officials accused Hamas of using hospitals as shields against Israeli attack, they urged the Israeli military to “exercise maximum restraint” when operating near hospitals.
Israel has vowed to continue the assault on Gaza after Hamas killed 1,200 people in the Jewish state during its October 7 rampage.
With post wires