DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of people appear to have fled Gaza’s largest hospital as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants battle outside its gates, but hundreds of patients, including dozens of babies, risk dying due to lack of care. electricity, remained indoors, health officials said Monday.
With only intermittent communications, it was difficult to reconcile the competing claims of the Israeli military, which said it was providing a safe corridor for people to move south, and Palestinian health officials inside the hospital, who claimed that the compound was constantly surrounded by heavy fire.
The army also said it had placed 300 liters (79 gallons) of fuel near the hospital to power its generators, but Hamas militants had prevented staff from accessing it. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry disputed the claim and said the fuel would have provided less than an hour’s worth of electricity.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Shifa had been without water for three days and “no longer functions as a hospital,” in a social media post.
Both sides have seized the hospital’s plight as a symbol of the broader war, now in its sixth week. The fighting was sparked by Hamas’ unprecedented surprise attack on Israel on October 7, and Israel’s response caused unprecedented levels of death and destruction for Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents, almost two thirds of whom had to flee their homes without safe refuge. available in the besieged territory.
For Palestinians, Shifa evokes the suffering of civilians. Doctors, short of equipment, operate on war wounded, including children, without anesthesia. Thousands of people displaced by airstrikes that destroyed entire city blocks have sought refuge in its dark corridors.
Israel says the hospital is the best example of Hamas’ alleged use of human shields, claiming – without evidence – that the militants have a command center and other military infrastructure in and under the medical compound . Hamas and hospital staff deny these allegations.
Mohammed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals, says around 650 patients and seriously injured people are being treated in Shifa by around 500 medical staff. He estimated that around 2,500 displaced Palestinians took refuge in hospital buildings.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry estimated that around 3,000 doctors and patients, as well as 15,000 to 20,000 displaced people, were sheltering there.
A U.N. health official said many displaced families and lightly injured patients fled Shifa as Israeli forces surrounded the hospital over the weekend. The official, who was not authorized to brief journalists and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the remaining patients could only be transferred with ambulances and other special procedures.
It is unclear where they will go, as several hospitals and clinics in Gaza have been forced to close, while others are already operating at full capacity with dwindling stocks.
The Health Ministry says three babies and four other patients have died since the hospital’s emergency generator ran out of fuel on Saturday. It says another 36 babies and other patients are at risk of dying because there is no way to power vital medical equipment.
The military said troops would help move the babies on Sunday, without specifying how they would transport them or where they would be transferred. There was no indication Monday that any had been moved.
Medical Aid for Palestinians, a UK-based charity that supported Shifa’s neonatal intensive care unit, said transferring seriously ill infants was complex. “With ambulances unable to reach the hospital … and no hospital having the capacity to receive them, there is no indication of how this can be done safely,” CEO Melanie Ward said. She said the only option was to suspend fighting and allow fuel.
Christos Christou, president of Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that it would take weeks to evacuate patients.
The United States has called for temporary pauses that would allow much-needed aid to be distributed more widely to civilians in the territory, where conditions are increasingly dire.
But Israel has only agreed to brief daily periods when civilians can flee ground fighting in northern Gaza and head south on foot along two main roads. Israel continues to strike what it considers to be militant targets in southern Gaza, often killing women and children.
More than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed since the start of the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilian deaths and those of militants. Around 2,700 people are missing.
Health officials, many of whom work in Shifa, have not updated the tally since Friday due to difficulty accessing hard-hit areas and collecting information.
At least 1,200 people were killed on the Israeli side, most of them civilians killed during the initial Hamas attack. Palestinian militants are holding nearly 240 hostages captured in the raid, including men, women, children and the elderly. The army says 48 soldiers were killed during ground operations in Gaza.
About 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from communities near Gaza, where Palestinian militants continue to fire barrages of rockets, and along the northern border with Lebanon, where Israel and the Hezbollah militant group have exchanged fire several times. times, risking a wider conflict. Hezbollah attacks on Sunday injured seven Israeli soldiers and ten other people, the Israeli army and emergency services said.
Magdy reported from Cairo.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.