A United Nations team said Sunday that 291 patients remained in Gaza's largest hospital after other Israeli troops evacuated. Those who stayed included 32 critically ill babies, trauma patients with severely infected wounds and others with immobilized spinal injuries.
The team was able to tour Sifa Hospital for an hour after about 2,500 displaced, mobile patients and medical staff left the sprawling complex on Saturday morning, said the World Health Organization, which led the mission. He said 25 medical staff remained, along with the patients.
“The patients and health staff they spoke to were terrified for their safety and health and requested evacuation,” the agency said, describing Sifa as a death zone. He said more teams would try to reach Shifa in the coming days to try to take patients to southern Gaza, where hospitals are also overwhelmed.
Israel has long claimed that Hamas maintains an extensive command post in and under Shifa. It has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end the militants' rule in Gaza after their widespread offensive in southern Israel six weeks ago, which sparked the war.
Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations. Israeli soldiers stationed at the hospital and searching its grounds for days say they found guns and other weapons and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel shaft. The AP could not independently verify Israel's findings.
Saturday's mass departure was portrayed by Israel as voluntary, but the WHO said the army had issued evacuation orders and some of those who left described it as a forced exodus.
“We left at gunpoint,” Mahmoud Abu Auf told The Associated Press by phone after he and his family left the packed hospital. “Tanks and snipers were everywhere inside and outside.” He said he saw Israeli troops detaining three men.
STRIKES IN THE NORTH AND SOUTH
Elsewhere in northern Gaza, dozens of people were killed in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya when what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike hit a packed UN shelter on Saturday. It caused massive damage to the camp's Fakhoura school, said injured survivors Ahmed Radwan and Yassin Sharif.
“The scenes were terrifying. Dead bodies 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 blood-stained sheets.
The Israeli military, which has repeatedly called on Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, said only that its troops were operating in the area “with the aim of hitting terrorists”. It rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it targets Hamas while trying to minimize civilian damage.
In southern Gaza, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building near the town of Khan Younis on Saturday, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.
More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed to be buried under rubble. The count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
HOSTAGES AND HELP
About 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the October 7 attack by Hamas, in which the group also dragged about 240 prisoners back to Gaza. The military says 52 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Hamas freed four hostages, Israel rescued one, and the bodies of two hostages were found near Shifa in an area where heavy fighting had taken place.
Israel, the United States and the Gulf state of Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for the release of the hostages for weeks. On Saturday, a senior White House official suggested it should be completed before large amounts of desperately needed aid flow in.
“A release of a large number of hostages would result in a significant cessation of fighting … and a huge surge in humanitarian aid,” Brett McGurk, the White House National Security Council's Middle East coordinator, told a conference in Bahrain.
Gaza's main power plant was shut down early in the war and Israel cut off electricity. This has left local authorities unable to operate water treatment plants, bakeries, hospitals and other critical infrastructure without fuel for generators, which has been depleted since Israel cut off all imports at the start of the war.
More than two-thirds of Gaza's population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. The UN agency for Palestine refugees, known as UNRWA, provides basic services to hundreds of thousands of people housed in schools and other facilities.
Over the weekend, Israel allowed UNRWA to import enough fuel to continue humanitarian operations for another two days and to keep Internet and phone systems operational. UNRWA was forced to put aid operations on hold on Friday during a communications blackout.
Gaza receives only 10% of its required food supplies daily in shipments from Egypt, according to the UN, and the shutdown of the water supply system has left most of the population drinking contaminated water.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Saturday that Israel's forces are expanding operations in Gaza City. “With each passing day, there are fewer places where Hamas terrorists can operate,” he said, adding that the militants would find out in southern Gaza “in the coming days.”
His comments were the clearest indication yet that the army plans to expand its offensive into southern Gaza, where Israel has told Palestinian civilians to seek shelter. The evacuation zone is already full of displaced civilians, and it was unclear where they would go if the attack came closer.
Even as it warns of a widening offensive, Israel remains at odds with its main ally, the United States, over what to do with Gaza if it succeeds in removing Hamas from power.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that the Israeli military would have “full freedom” to operate inside the territory after the war, indicating that it would at least temporarily retake territory from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005.
In an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post, US President Joe Biden said Gaza and the West Bank must be reunited and governed under a “reinvigorated Palestinian Authority” while world leaders work towards a solution that creates a Palestinian state next to Israel.
Netanyahu's government is staunchly opposed to a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority has said it will return to rule Gaza – where Hamas destroyed its forces in 2007 – as part of a comprehensive two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.
Magdy reported from Cairo.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.