Monday, April 15, 2024

Israeli forces storm main hospital in southern Gaza after prolonged standoff and partial evacuation

Israeli forces stormed the main hospital in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli fire killed a patient and wounded six others inside the complex.

The Israeli army said it was a limited operation seeking the remains of hostages taken by Hamas.

The raid came a day after the army sought to evacuate thousands of displaced people who had taken shelter at the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.

The southern city has been the main target of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in recent weeks.

An injured person is attended to amid commotion at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 15, 2024. via REUTERS

The military said it had “credible intelligence” that Hamas had held hostages at the hospital and that the remains of hostages might still be inside.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesperson, said forces were conducting a “precise and limited” operation there and would not forcibly evacuate medics or patients.

Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian structures to shield its fighters.

Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said Israel had launched a “massive incursion” with heavy shooting that wounded many of the displaced people who had sheltered there.

He said the military had ordered medics to move all patients into an older building that was not properly equipped for their treatment.

A man blocks an entrance at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 15, 2024. via REUTERS

“Many cannot evacuate, such as those with lower limb amputations, severe burns, or the elderly,” he said in an interview with the Al Jazeera network.

Separately, Israeli airstrikes killed at least 13 people in southern Lebanon on Wednesday, 10 civilians — mostly women and children — and three fighters from the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, an ally of Gaza’s Hamas terrorists.

The strikes came just hours after a rocket attack from Lebanon killed an Israeli soldier in what was the deadliest of daily exchanges of fire along the border since the Oct. 7 start of the war in Gaza.

Palestinian patients rest as they arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis due to the Israeli ground operation on Feb. 15, 2024. REUTERS

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It also underscored the risks of a broader conflict.

Negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza appear to have stalled, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and scores of hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war are returned.

SCENES OF PANIC IN A HOSPITAL WARD

Nasser Hospital, in the southern city of Khan Younis, has been the latest focus of operations that have gutted Gaza’s health sector as it struggles to treat scores of patients wounded in daily bombardments.

Video of the aftermath of the strike showed medics scrambling to wheel patients on stretchers through a corridor filled with smoke or dust.

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas on Feb. 15, 2024. via REUTERS

A medic used a cellphone flashlight to illuminate a darkened room where a wounded man screamed out in pain as gunfire echoed outside.

The Associated Press could not authenticate the videos but they were consistent with its reporting.

Dr. Khaled Alserr, one of the remaining surgeons at Nasser Hospital, told the AP that the seven patients hit early Thursday were already being treated for past wounds.

Palestinian patients arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis on Feb. 15, 2024. REUTERS

On Wednesday, a doctor was lightly wounded when a drone opened fire on the upper stories of the hospital, he said.

“The situation is escalating every hour and every minute,” he said.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that it had opened a secure corridor for displaced people to leave the hospital but would allow doctors and patients to remain there.

Videos circulating online showed scores of people walking out of the facility on foot carrying their belongings on their shoulders.

The military had ordered the evacuation of Nasser Hospital and surrounding areas last month.

But as with other health facilities, medics said patients were unable to safely leave or be relocated, and thousands of people displaced by fighting elsewhere remained there.

Palestinians say nowhere is safe in the besieged territory, as Israel continues to carry out strikes in all parts of it.

“People have been forced into an impossible situation,” said Lisa Macheiner of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which has staff in the hospital.

“Stay at Nasser Hospital against the Israeli military’s orders and become a potential target, or exit the compound into an apocalyptic landscape where bombings and evacuation orders are a part of daily life.”

NO END IN SIGHT TO THE MONTHSLONG WAR

The war began when Hamas terrorists burst through Israel’s formidable defenses on Oct. 7 and rampaged through several communities, killing some 1,200 people and taking another 250 hostage.

More than 100 of the captives were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Children rest outside as Palestinian arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis on Feb. 15, 2024. REUTERS

Around 130 captives remain in Gaza, a fourth of whom are believed to be dead.

Netanyahu has come under intense pressure from families of the hostages and the wider public to make a deal to secure their freedom, but his far-right coalition partners could bring down his government if he is seen as being too soft on Hamas.

Israel responded to the Oct. 7 attack by launching one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

Over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, 80% of the population have fled their homes and a quarter are starving amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe.

Large areas in northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, have been completely destroyed

Hamas has continued to attack Israeli forces in all parts of Gaza, and says it will not release all the remaining captives until Israel ends its offensive and withdraws.

Hamas is also demanding the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists.

Netanyahu has rejected those demands, calling them “delusional,” and says Israel will soon expand its offensive into Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, on the Egyptian border.

Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has sought refuge in Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere in the coastal enclave.

At least 28,576 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

A woman rests with children, as Palestinian arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis due to the Israeli ground operation on Feb. 15, 2024. REUTERS

Over 68,000 people have been wounded in the war.

In northern Israel, meanwhile, a rocket attack killed a female soldier and wounded eight people when one of the projectiles hit a military base in the town of Safed on Wednesday.

Israel carried out airstrikes in southern Lebanon in response that killed three Hezbollah fighters and 10 civilians, including six women and three children.

Israel and Hezbollah have traded fire along the border nearly every day since the start of the war in Gaza. Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s rocket attack.

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