Gaza officials said Israel launched air strikes on or near at least three hospitals on Friday, further stressing the Palestinian enclave’s precarious health system as it struggles to cope with thousands of people wounded or displaced in Israel’s war against Hamas militants.
“The Israeli occupation launched simultaneous strikes on a number of hospitals during the past hours”, Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra told Al Jazeera television.
The medical facilities included Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa, where Israel said Hamas has hidden command centres and tunnels, allegations Hamas denies. Qidra said Israel targeted the Gaza City medical complex’s courtyard and there were casualties, but he did not provide details.
Israel’s military did not immediately comment on Qidra’s statement, which Reuters could not independently verify.
Gaza’s hospitals have struggled to care for victims of Israel’s month-old military campaign, aimed at obliterating Palestinian militant group Hamas, as medical supplies, clean water and fuel to power generators run out.
Gaza’s health ministry has said 18 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals and 40 other health centres were out of service either due to damage from bombardment or lack of fuel.
Palestinian media published video footage on Friday of Al Shifa, which Reuters was not immediately able to authenticate, that it said showed the aftermath of an Israeli attack on a parking lot where displaced Palestinians were sheltered and journalists were observing.
A pool of blood could be seen next to the body of a man being placed on a stretcher.
“With ongoing strikes and fighting nearby (Al Shifa), we are gravely concerned about the well-being of thousands of civilians there, many children among them, seeking medical care and shelter,” Human Rights Watch said on social media site X.
Qidra said Al-Rantisi Pediatric Hospital and Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital “have been witnessing a series of direct attacks and bombardments” on Friday. He said strikes on the hospital grounds at Al-Rantisi set vehicles on fire but they had been partly extinguished.
US SAYS ISRAEL AGREES TO PAUSES
Israel unleashed its assault in response to a cross-border Hamas raid on southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7 in which Israel says 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 240 taken hostage. Israel says it has lost 35 soldiers in Gaza.
Palestinian officials said 10,812 Gaza residents had been killed as of Thursday, about 40% of them children, in air and artillery strikes. A humanitarian catastrophe has unfolded as basic supplies like food and water run out and shelling displaces civilians from their homes.
Israel’s military has said it has evidence that Hamas uses Al Shifa and other hospitals such as the Indonesian Hospital to hide command posts and entry points to an extensive tunnel network under Gaza. It says it does not target civilians, and it has allowed some wounded Palestinian civilians to cross into Egypt for treatment.
But Israel’s military advance on central Gaza City, which brought tanks within about 1.2 kilometre (3/4 mile) of Al Shifa, according to residents, has raised questions about how Israel will interpret international laws on protecting medical centres and displaced people sheltering there.
Deadly air strikes on refugee camps, a medical convoy and near hospitals have already prompted fierce arguments among some of Israel’s Western allies over its military’s adherence to international law.
US President Joe Biden said in a post on X on Thursday that Israel has “an obligation to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and fully comply with international law.”
The White House said on Thursday that Israel agreed to pause military operations in parts of north Gaza for four hours a day, but there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting that has laid waste to the seaside enclave.
The pauses, which would allow people to flee along two humanitarian corridors and could be used for the release of hostages, were significant first steps, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested any pauses would be scattered, and there was no official confirmation of a plan for recurring breaks.
Asked if there would be a “stoppage” in fighting, Netanyahu said on the Fox News Channel: “No. The fighting continues against the Hamas enemy, the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period of a few hours here or a few hours there, we want to facilitate the safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fight and we’re doing that.”
On the ground in northern Gaza, there were no reports of a lull in fighting. Each side reported inflicting heavy casualties on the other in intense street battles.
(Published 10 November 2023, 03:16 IST)