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Israeli forces storm Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital: ‘We can do nothing but pray’

‘They are inside the complex, shooting and carrying out bombings,’ one source inside the medical center told Al Jazeera

Medics move a patient through the smoke-filled corridors inside Al Shifa hospital following an Israeli raid, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Gaza City, November 15, 2023.
Medics move a patient through the smoke-filled corridors inside Al Shifa hospital following an Israeli raid, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, in Gaza City, November 15, 2023.GAZA MINISTRY OF HEALTH (REUTERS)

Israeli forces early Wednesday morning entered Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa, which has been under siege for two days. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have called the assault on the hospital a “crime against humanity” and a “war crime.”

Around 1,500 patients are admitted at the hospital, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and some 650 patients, including 36 premature babies, cannot be evacuated. Thousands of civilians displaced from their homes by the fighting are also sheltering nearby.

Mohammed Zaqout, the director of hospitals in Gaza, told the Associated Press over the phone that the patients, including children, are terrified after Israeli forces stormed the buildings. “They are screaming. It’s a very terrifying situation … we can do nothing for the patients but pray,” he said.

Dr. Munir al Bursh, director general of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health, who is inside the hospital, said that Israeli forces were searching the basement.

“There are big explosions, and dust has entered the areas where we are. We believe an explosion occurred inside the hospital,” he told Al Jazeera. “The occupation army is now in the basement and searching the basement. They are inside the complex, shooting and carrying out bombings.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed early Wednesday morning that they were carrying out a “precise and targeted” operation against Hamas in Al Shifa hospital. In a message posted on social networks, the Israeli army claimed to have carried out the operation based on intelligence suggesting it was being used by Hamas.

For days, the IDF have been accusing Hamas of using the hospital as a human shield, which jeopardizes its status as neutral territory under international law. This rule protects hospitals from military attacks.

The White House announced early Wednesday morning that it had been able to confirm that Hamas was using health center facilities to store weapons and as a control center for some of its operations. This was confirmed by John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, who said that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad were using tunnels under the hospital to move weapons and to “hold hostages.” But he did not provide any evidence to support those claims.

Hamas, which has been governing Gaza since 2007, denied these accusations. “The occupation army’s assault on the Al Shifa medical compound is a war crime, a moral crime and a crime against humanity,” said a Hamas spokesperson on Wednesday, according to EFE.

Hamas accused U.S. President Joe Biden of giving the green light to the Israeli military operation in Al Shifa hospital. “We hold the occupation [Israel] and President Biden wholly responsible for the assault on the Al-Shifa medical complex,” it said in a statement.

The militant group called the operation a “brutal crime” against a facility that is protected by international law and the Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in armed conflict. “The Israeli occupation and everyone who colluded with it to kill children, patients and innocent civilians will be held accountable,” it added in the statement.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the West Bank, also held Israel responsible for the attack. PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila accused Israel of committing a “new crime against humanity, medical staff and patients” by carrying out a military operation inside the hospital.

The hospital, after two days of siege, has run out of food, water and electricity. The situation has become so dire that a mass grave was dug to bury the dozens of decomposing bodies. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has said that evacuating the hospital is “impossible.” After storming the Al Shifa Hospital, the Israeli army claimed to have brought incubators and baby food to the hospital.

In the midst of the military offensive, the Israeli army said it has seized the headquarters of the Hamas government in Gaza, the parliament and several militia barracks. Israel has drawn the ire of the international community for carrying out offensives on sites where there are wounded, refugees and children.

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