At Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, UN team finds ‘death zone’: NPR

Bodies of dead Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes are seen in a truck at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Sunday, November 5, 2023.

Abed Khaled/AP

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Abed Khaled/AP

Bodies of dead Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes are seen in a truck at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Sunday, November 5, 2023.

Abed Khaled/AP

TEL AVIV, Israel — Piles of medical and solid waste fill the crowded corridors of Gaza’s largest hospital, according to the World Health Organization. And at least 80 bodies lie in a mass grave at the hospital’s entrance.

A joint UN humanitarian assessment team, led by the WHO, gained the first outside access to Al-Shifa hospital on Saturday and saw firsthand the dire conditions at the facility, the groups said. The team was only able to see the hospital for an hour.

In that time, they found that several patients have died in the previous two to three days due to medical services shutting down in the facility, according to the WHO. And now there are only 25 health workers for the 291 remaining patients, including 32 premature babies in “extremely critical condition.”

The hospital reported losing power after running out of fuel to run its generators earlier this week, causing the deaths of some patients.

UN representatives described the once advanced and best-equipped referral hospital in Gaza now as a “death zone”.

WHO is working to guarantee the safe passage of remaining patients

Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip along Salah al-Din Street on the outskirts of Gaza City in front of an Israeli army bulldozer on Saturday, November 18, 2023.

Adel Hana/AP

Al-Shifa has turned into a focal point for Israeli military operations in recent days. As the military ramps up its operations in Gaza, the UN team is working to safely evacuate the remaining patients in the hospital.

“During the next 24-72 hours, pending guarantees of safe passage by the parties to the conflict, additional missions are being arranged to urgently transport patients from Al-Shifa to the Nasser Medical Complex and the European Gaza Hospital in southern Gaza, “WHO. said in a statement. “However, these hospitals are already working beyond their capacity and new referrals from Al-Shifa Hospital will further strain overburdened healthcare staff and resources.”

The Israeli military has asked the Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate further south along a so-called security corridor. Evidence shows that Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire occur daily in the very areas Israel has said are “safer” for civilians. These attacks have hit schools, residential towers and overcrowded UN shelters.

The IDF has claimed that Hamas turned the tunnels under the hospital into a command center and used patients and staff to cover its militants. On Wednesday, Israel released a video of weapons it said it found in one of the tunnels, but so far has not revealed evidence that it was a sophisticated command center. Hamas has refused to use Al-Shifa as a command center.

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Earlier Saturday, the IDF issued evacuation orders to the remaining 2,500 people sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital compound. Those civilians, along with some patients and hospital staff, had been evacuated by the military when the UN team arrived for their visit, the WHO said.

As part of Hamas’ attacks in Israel on October 7, nearly 240 people were kidnapped. Negotiations on a possible ceasefire that would allow people in Gaza to move about safely and for hostages to be returned to Israel are still ongoing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that there was no deal on the table and I can’t expand beyond that.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson disputed a report by The Washington Post that said an agreement had been reached between the United States, Israel and Hamas.

Watson said, “We have not reached an agreement yet, but we continue to work hard to get an agreement.”