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UN Relief Chief Sounds Alarm as Israel Raids Gaza’s Largest Hospital

Israeli forces’ raid of al-Shifa Hospital Wednesday came days after they encircled the facility and began bombarding it.

Palestinians injured in Israeli raids arrive at Nasser Medical Hospital on November 14, 2023, in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

The head of the United Nations’ emergency relief operations said Wednesday that he was “appalled” by news of the Israeli military’s raid of Gaza’s largest hospital, where hundreds of patients and healthcare workers and thousands of displaced people are sheltering.

“The protection of newborns, patients, medical staff, and all civilians must override all other concerns,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, wrote on social media. “Hospitals are not battlegrounds.”

Israeli forces’ raid of al-Shifa Hospital early Wednesday came days after they encircled the facility and began bombarding it, accusing Hamas of using the hospital and tunnels beneath it for military operations.

The U.S. backed Israel’s assertion on Tuesday, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling reporters that “we have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad used some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them, to conceal and support their military operations and to hold hostages.”

Asked to provide specific evidence, Kirby cited “a variety of intelligence sources” but declined to publicize “a whole lot of granular detail on that.”

Hospitals are protected from military attack under international law and can only lose their protected status if they are shown to have been used for “an act harmful to the enemy.” Human Rights Watch argued in a report released ahead of Wednesday’s raid that the Israeli government has not provided sufficient evidence to justify its attacks on al-Shifa and other northern Gaza hospitals, most of which have ceased functioning due to a lack of fuel and other supplies.

An emergency room employee at al-Shifa told Al Jazeera that during their raid, Israeli soldiers “detained and brutally assaulted some of the men who were taking refuge at the hospital.”

“Israeli forces took the detained men naked and blindfolded,” the worker added. “[They] did not bring any aid or supplies, they only brought terror and death.”

On Tuesday, according to Gaza officials, around 170 bodies were buried in a mass grave in the courtyard of al-Shifa, as there was no other way to safely bury them outside the hospital compound because of Israeli attacks and firefights with Hamas. A surgeon at the hospital told Reuters that, due to lack of refrigeration, the bodies “were generating an unbearable stench and posing a risk of infection.”

“The Health Ministry said 40 patients, including three babies, have died since Shifa’s emergency generator ran out of fuel Saturday,” The Associated Press reported Wednesday. “Another 36 babies are at risk of dying because there is no power for incubators, according to the ministry.”

Israel’s bombing campaign, ground invasion, and siege have killed more than 11,000 people across the Gaza Strip, but the recent attacks on the enclave’s hospitals have made it impossible for Gaza health officials to reach the facilities to count the dead and wounded. Thousands more are believed to have been killed since the death toll was updated last week.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said early Wednesday that “we’ve lost touch again with health personnel” at al-Shifa following Israel’s raid.

“We’re extremely worried for their and their patients’ safety,” he added.

Facing growing accusations of war crimes, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) called its raid on al-Shifa a “precise and targeted operation against Hamas.” In the wake of the deadly Hamas-led attack on Israel last month, the IDF has claimed repeatedly that it is targeting militants even as it has decimated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, bombing homes, medical facilities, schools, bakeries, and the strip’s largest refugee camp.

A confidential memo from the Dutch Embassy in Tel Aviv states that Israel is “deliberately causing massive destruction to the infrastructure and civilian centers” of Gaza in an effort to “showcase credible military force” to “Iran and its proxies,” according to Politico.

Israel’s strategy, the memo states, violates “international treaties and laws of war.”

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