Israeli forces pressed their offensive against Hamas in northern Gaza on Monday, battling militants around a hospital where thousands of patients and displaced people have been sheltering for weeks, and where health officials began planning the possible evacuation of dozens of wounded.
A medical worker inside the facility and the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said a shell struck the second floor of the Indonesian Hospital, killing 12 people. Both blamed Israel, which denied shelling the hospital, saying its troops returned fire on militants who targeted them from inside the 1.4-hectare compound.
The World Organization said it’s “appalled by the attack today on the Indonesian Hospital in north Gaza.”
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“Health workers and civilians should never have to be exposed to such horror, and especially while inside a hospital,” it said in a statement.
“According to the latest reports, the Indonesian Hospital continues to be besieged. No one has been allowed to enter or leave the hospital. There have been reports of shooting toward those attempting to leave but no injuries or fatalities thus far,” the WHO said.
The Israeli advance came as 28 premature babies evacuated from Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital by a WHO team were transported to Egypt on Monday. Three others were transferred to an Emirati-run hospital in Rafah in southern Gaza, the Red Crescent said. More than 250 critically ill or wounded patients remain stranded at the compound that Israeli forces stormed days ago.
Gaza’s hospitals play a prominent role in the battle of narratives over the war’s brutal toll on Palestinian civilians, thousands of whom have been killed or buried in rubble since the conflict was sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel. In the wake of the assault, Israeli leaders vowed to eradicate Hamas, destroy its ability to rule Gaza and uproot its militant infrastructure.
Israel says Hamas uses civilians as human shields and that it operated a major command hub inside and beneath Al-Shifa, a claim hospital officials and Hamas deny.
Israeli troops were battling Hamas fighters in north Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp, a densely built up district on Gaza City’s northeastern side that has been heavily hit by bombardment for weeks. The military said that after moving through the centre of the city to Al-Shifa, its forces were now working to uproot Hamas fighters from eastern areas.
Influx of casualties at hospital under siege
Dozens of people killed and wounded in airstrikes and shelling overnight reached into the Indonesian Hospital, near Jabaliya, said Marwan Abdallah, the medical worker there.
He said Israeli tanks were operating less than 200 metres away and Israeli snipers could be seen on the roofs of nearby buildings. As he spoke on the phone, the sound of gunfire could be heard in the background.
Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said some 600 patients, 200 health-care workers and 2,000 displaced people are sheltering at the hospital. Al-Qidra said the International Committee for the Red Cross and the WHO were prepared to evacuate roughly 150 wounded patients later Monday if a convoy of buses was able to reach the hospital.
In a separate development that could relieve some of the pressure on Gaza’s collapsing health system, dozens of trucks entered from Egypt on Monday with equipment from Jordan to set up a field hospital. Jordan’s state-run media said the hospital in the southern town of Khan Younis would be up and running within 48 hours.
After the evacuation of the premature babies and other wounded from Shifa, more than 250 patients with severely infected wounds and other urgent conditions remained in the hospital complex, which can no longer provide most treatment after it ran out of water, medical supplies and fuel for emergency generators.
Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside its gates for days before entering the facility on Wednesday. Four babies died in the two days before the evacuation, according to Mohamed Zaqout, the director of Gaza hospitals.
Israel’s army said it has evidence that Hamas maintained a sprawling command post inside and under the hospital’s eight-hectare complex, which includes several buildings.
On Sunday, the military released a video showing what it said was a tunnel discovered at the hospital, 55 metres long and about 10 metres below ground. It said the tunnel ended at a blast-proof door with a hole in it for gunmen to fire out of. Troops have not opened the door yet, it said.
Some hostages taken to Al-Shifa, Israel says
Israeli forces also released security camera video showing what they said were two foreign hostages, one Thai and one Nepalese, who were captured by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack and taken to the hospital. Hamas said its fighters brought them in for medical care.
The army also said an investigation had determined that Israeli army Cpl. Noa Marciano, another captive whose body was recovered in Gaza, had been wounded in an Israeli strike on Nov. 9 that killed her captor, but was then killed by a Hamas militant in Al-Shifa.
The military has previously released images of several guns it said were found inside an MRI lab and said that the bodies of two hostages were found near the complex.
News agencies have not able to independently confirm the military’s findings.
Nearly 3 in 4 people displaced: UN
Hamas and hospital staff have denied the allegations of a command post under Al-Shifa. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed the latest announcement, saying “the Israelis said there was a command and control centre, which means that the matter is greater than just a tunnel.”
Israel has repeatedly ordered Palestinians to leave northern Gaza and seek refuge in the south, which has also been under aerial bombardment since the start of the war. Some 1.7 million people, nearly three quarters of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, have been displaced, with 900,000 packing into crowded UN-run shelters, according to the UN.
Strikes in the Nuseirat and Bureij refugee camps Monday killed at least 40 people, according to hospital officials, and residents said dozens more were buried in the rubble.
Hostage talks ongoing: Israeli ambassador
About 240 hostages were taken during a deadly cross-border rampage into Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to invade the tiny Palestinian territory to wipe out the Islamist movement after several inconclusive wars since 2007.
Around 1,200 people, mostly civilians including several Canadians, were killed in the Hamas assault, according to Israeli tallies, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.
Since then, Gaza’s Hamas-run government said at least 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,500 children, by unrelenting Israeli bombardment.
Despite continued fighting, U.S. and Israeli officials said a Qatari-mediated deal to free some of the hostages held in the Palestinian enclave and pause fighting temporarily to enable aid deliveries to stricken civilians was edging closer.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, said in an interview on ABC’s This Week Israel was hopeful a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas “in coming days.”
Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada confirmed on Monday that an additional 84 people with ties to Canada made it through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and travelled to Cairo on Sunday.
An update from Global Affairs Canada, provided on Friday said 376 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have been able to leave the Palestinian territory through the Rafah crossing.