Public health officials say hospitals in Gaza City are at risk amid a fuel shortage that has rendered them unusable as escalating fighting between Israeli ground forces and militants closes in on the facilities.
President Joe Biden told reporters Monday that the hospitals “must be protected” and expressed a desire for “less intrusive action” affecting them from the Israeli military in its fight against Hamas.
At Al Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza, Israeli ground forces are closing in as more than 3,500 staff, patients and civilians who are housed remain inside.
“The tanks are in front of the hospital. We are under full blockade,” said Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a surgeon at the hospital, told Reuters by phone. “It’s a completely civilian area. Only … hospital patients, doctors and other civilians staying at the hospital. Someone should stop this.”
Mohammed Zaqout, the director of hospitals in Gaza, said on Monday that 32 injured people have died in hospital since the weekend, including seven patients in the intensive care unit. He also said that there are 36 newborns at risk in the hospital who need to be evacuated. Three others died since Sunday from a lack of milk and power for incubators.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said late Sunday that the situation in Shifa was “serious and dangerous” and he called for an immediate ceasefire. “It has been 3 days without electricity, without water and with very poor internet, which has severely affected our ability to provide essential care,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Al-Quds Hospital, the second largest hospital in Gaza City, lost power on Sunday and has been surrounded by Israeli tanks and ground forcesaccording to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, an independent aid group.
Israeli military officials say both hospitals and others house Hamas operatives and militants, either inside the facilities or in tunnels beneath them. Hamas officials rejected the claims, saying the Israeli military uses them to justify airstrikes and the advance of ground forces.
∎ On Monday, 27 EU countries condemned Hamas in a joint statement for using hospitals and civilians as “human shields” and called on Israel to use “maximum restraint and targeting to avoid human casualties.”
∎ UN offices around the world lowered their flags to half-mast to mourn slain workers since war broke out following Hamas’ deadly incursion into southern Israel last month.
∎ More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. Israeli officials recently revised the death toll in the Hamas attack from 1,400 to about 1,200, and about 240 hostages were taken. The Israeli military said 44 soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the ground operations.
Thomas White, the director of the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, said Monday “the humanitarian operation in Gaza will stop in the next 48 hours as no fuel is allowed to enter Gaza.”
Earlier in the day, two of the agency’s water distribution contractors stopped working because they ran out of fuel, effectively denying drinking water to 200,000 people, White said. A bulk reservoir of fuel that the UN had access to through coordination with the Israeli government is “now empty,” White said.
While dozens of trucks carrying humanitarian aid have entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing over the past few weeks, Israel has not allowed fuel to enter the territory, saying Hamas is likely to appropriate it for its own use.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society tweeted that it had to return its evacuation convoy was on its way to pick up wounded patients at Al-Quds Hospital on Monday due to “relentless bombardment” and the “dangerous situation where the hospital is located.” A spokesman for the group said: “Our staff are trapped with patients and wounded, without electricity, water or food.”
The Israeli military said on Monday that troops killed militants near the hospital, accusing them of trying to mix with civilians. On X, the Israeli military released a video purports to show a militant holding a rocket near the entrance to the hospital.
More than half of the hospitals in the entire Gaza Strip are no longer functioning, according to the WHO.
On Sunday, Israeli military officials said troops hand-delivered 300 liters of fuel to Al Shifa Hospital “for emergency medical purposes” and that “Hamas prohibited the hospital from taking it.”
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told Al Jazeera that the Israeli military had delivered 200, not 300, liters of fuel. “These 200 liters provide less than an hour to run the generator,” he said. “This is an insult to the patients and the children.”
The Israeli military also said it had given civilians an escape route to leave the hospital, which it says is the site of a significant Hamas operational post.
Dr. Marwan Abusada, head of operations at the hospital, told Al Jazeera: “Nobody can get out. Nobody can get in… People who tried to evacuate the hospital were shot in the street.”
The Israeli military announced Monday the reopening of evacuation corridors for civilians to flee northern Gaza along with a “tactical pause in the military operation” in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, between 10:00 and 14:00 local time.
According to the Israeli military, the evacuation routes will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The UN estimates that over 100,000 civilians have fled northern Gaza using the evacuation routes.
Last week, Israel announced its commitment to daily four-hour pauses in areas throughout Gaza to expand the flow of humanitarian aid. The breaks were called for repeatedly by US officials, including Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Israeli officials said they will not consider a ceasefire until all the hostages are released.
UN building in southern Gaza hit by Israeli naval attack, agency says
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, said one of its guesthouses in Rafah in southern Gaza sustained significant damage Monday from “Israeli Force naval strikes.”
No deaths were reported, and the agency said UN staff had left the building “90 minutes before the strike.”
“This recent attack is yet another indication that nowhere in Gaza is safe. Not the north, not the middle areas and not the south,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement.
Nearly 780,000 displaced civilians have taken refuge in UN buildings and facilities, including schools, since the war began last month. More than 66 civilians have been killed and hundreds injured in injuries reported at more than 60 UNRWA facilities since the start of the war last month. Over 100 UNRWA workers have been killed since 7 October, making the conflict the deadliest ever for UN staff.
Cast: Maureen Groppe, John Bacon and Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; Associated Press