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Heavy Fighting Spurs ‘Catastrophic’ Scene At Gaza Hospital

The Israeli military said that around 150,000 Palestinians have left in a "mass evacuation" south in recent days from the area of the northern Gaza Strip where combat is heavy.


Protesters holding olive branches, known as a sign of peace, take part in the ‘National March For Palestine’ in central London on November 11, 2023, calling for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. – Huge crowds marched through the British capital, as pro-Palestinian supporters made their latest mass call for a ceasefire, with police out in force to prevent clashes with counter-protesters. The ‘National March for Palestine’, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, set off after a two-minutes’ silence to remember Britain’s war dead on Armistice Day was observed at The Cenotaph war memorial in central London at 1100 GMT. (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

 

 

Palestinians seeking refuge at Gaza’s largest hospital and staff said they were trapped in increasingly horrific conditions Saturday, with two premature infants dying due to a lack of electricity as heavy fighting raged nearby.

The Israeli military has denied there is a siege at Al-Shifa hospital and has repeatedly accused Hamas of using medical facilities as command centres and hideouts — a charge the Palestinian militant group denies.

The gun battles and intense bombardment around the compound came as Israel pressed deep into Gaza City in its offensive aimed at destroying the militants on the territory they rule.

“Shooting is never stopping, airstrikes are unabated as well as artillery shells,” said a witness who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There are dozens of bodies around the complex that nobody can reach.”

Though tens of thousands of people have fled the fighting, many have taken shelter in northern Gaza’s hospitals, which have been repeatedly hit by explosive strikes and gunfire.

“The hospital is besieged, with no option to bring in the corpses and injured people sprawled outside. There is no movement in or out of the hospital,” said Physicians for Human Rights Israel, citing doctors at Al-Shifa.

The Israeli doctors’ group added that due to the lack of electricity, the neonatal intensive care unit has stopped working and two premature infants have died — leaving the lives of 37 other infants at risk.

“The situation in Al-Shifa is truly catastrophic,” said Ann Taylor, head of the Palestinian Territories mission for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Hamas fighters poured through the militarised border with Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 people hostage, according to the most recent Israeli figures.

The Gaza health ministry says Israeli fighting has killed more than 11,000 people, also mostly civilians and thousands of them children.

– Calls for ceasefire grow –
The suffering in Gaza has prompted growing calls for a halt in five weeks of fighting in order to protect civilian lives and allow humanitarian aid into the densely populated territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Israel had the right to defend itself but urged it to stop strikes on civilians in Gaza: “These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back, saying the responsibility for any harm to civilians lies with Hamas.

“Israel does everything in its power to avoid harming civilians and urges them to leave the battle areas,” he said.

Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed group present in Gaza, said on Saturday its “fighters are engaged in fierce clashes in the vicinity of Al-Shifa hospital complex” and other areas of Gaza City, claiming to have caused “casualties in the ranks of the (Israeli) enemy forces”.

– ‘Far too many’ deaths –
Concern over the civilian toll has also come from staunch Israel ally Washington, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Friday: “Far too many Palestinians have been killed.”

The conflict has stoked regional tensions, with deadly cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

Speaking at a summit of Arab and Muslim leaders in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called on Islamic governments to designate Israel’s military a “terrorist organisation”.

Iran backs Hamas as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels, placing it at the centre of concerns the war could expand.

A final statement from the summit rejected Israeli claims that it is acting in “self-defence” and demanded that the United Nations Security Council adopt “a decisive and binding resolution” to halt Israel’s “aggression”.

In northern Gaza, the director of the Indonesian hospital said lack of fuel forced the facility to cut power to their desalination plant, medical scanners and lifts.

“The hospital is working with 30-40 percent of its capacity,” Atef Al-Kahlot said.

“We call on the honourable people of the world, if any of them are left, to put pressure on the occupation forces to supply the Indonesian hospital and the rest of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip.”

Hospitals have become key sites for Palestinians seeking refuge from the intense gun battles and bombardment.

A wounded boy at the Indonesian hospital, Youssef Al-Najjar, said he was waiting for surgery but the necessary machines were off due to lack of power.

“I’m very thirsty but I’m not allowed to drink or eat until the operation is done,” he said.

Twenty of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “no longer functioning”, the UN’s humanitarian agency said.

– Tens of thousands flee –
Fighting has reduced some streets in Gaza to ruins, with the sounds of apparent explosions and gunfire caught Saturday on AFPTV’s Gaza City camera.

The bodies of about 50 people killed in a strike on Gaza City’s Al-Buraq school were taken to the Al-Shifa hospital, its director said Friday.

Israel on Saturday said its forces launched an air strike on the school that killed a Hamas company commander, accusing the group of using civilians as “human shields” — a charge it denies.

The exodus toward Gaza’s south, which has accelerated under intense fighting, has seen tens of thousands of people flee in recent days.

An estimated 30,000 additional Palestinians went southwards through an evacuation corridor opened by the Israeli military on Friday, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office OCHA.

But OCHA said “several explosions were recorded in that ‘corridor’, resulting in fatalities and injuries, among those fleeing, according to initial reports”.

The Israeli military said that around 150,000 Palestinians have left in a “mass evacuation” south in recent days from the area of the northern Gaza Strip where combat is heavy.

However, strikes were hitting buildings at the southern end of Gaza in Rafah, the area of the densely-populated territory to which civilians have been urged to evacuate.

“They struck us with a missile, and these are innocent people,” said Harb Fojou, standing near the rubble of a destroyed building.

Almost 1.6 million people have been internally displaced since October 7, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA — about two thirds of Gaza’s population.

Hamas’s bloody October 7 attacks and Israel’s relentless military campaign have sparked public demonstrations around the world.

Authorities had feared trouble as the “National March for Palestine” was scheduled for Armistice Day, Britain’s annual commemoration of its war dead. Dozens of arrests were reported.