- LATEST DEVELOPMENTS:
- No immediate Israeli military comment on the situation at the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza; The Palestinian News Agency says it was hit by artillery fire
- At least 14 Palestinians killed in two Israeli airstrikes on houses in the southern town of Rafah near the Egyptian border
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Israeli tanks surrounded a hospital in northern Gaza, killing at least 12 Palestinians and wounding dozens by firing into the complex, health officials said on Monday, as fighting raged amid indications of a possible pause in hostilities.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the situation at the Indonesian hospital, where health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said 700 patients, along with staff, were under fire from Israeli forces.
Palestinian news agency WAFA said the facility in the northeastern Gaza city of Beit Lahia had been hit by artillery fire. Palestinian health officials said there were frantic efforts to evacuate civilians out of harm’s way.
The hospital staff denied that there were any armed militants at the site. Israel says its forces in Gaza are targeting “terrorist infrastructure” and accuses Hamas of waging war behind human shields, including in hospitals, which the Islamist group denies.
“We had earlier information that tanks were besieging the Indonesian hospital. Unfortunately… communication there is almost cut off,” Nahed Abu Taaema, director of Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, told Reuters.
“We are very concerned about the fate of our colleagues and the fate of wounded and patients as well as (displaced) people who may still be sheltering there. No ambulances can reach them and we are afraid that the injured will die,” said Abu Taeema.
Like all other health facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian hospital, which was established in 2016 with funds from Indonesian organizations, has largely ceased operations but still houses patients, staff and displaced residents.
Israel has ordered the complete evacuation of the north, but thousands of civilians remain, many seeking shelter in hospitals. Fuel and medicine have run out across the enclave during Israel’s six-week siege.
Witnesses also reported bouts of heavy fighting between Hamas gunmen and Israeli forces trying to advance into northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, home to 100,000 people and, according to Israel, a major militant stronghold.
Repeated Israeli bombardment of Jabalia, an urban extension of Gaza City that grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, has killed dozens of civilians, Palestinian doctors say.
At the other end of the Gaza Strip, health officials said at least 14 Palestinians were killed in two Israeli airstrikes on houses in the town of Rafah, near the border with Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans who fled north of the enclave are seeking shelter in the southern areas, including Rafah.
The Israeli military issued a statement with video of airstrikes and troops going house-to-house in Gaza, saying they killed three Hamas company commanders and a group of Palestinian fighters, without giving specific locations.
Despite continued fighting, US and Israeli officials said a Qatari deal to free some of the hostages in the Palestinian enclave and temporarily halt fighting to allow aid deliveries to affected civilians was nearing.
About 240 hostages were taken during a deadly cross-border rampage into Israel by Hamas militants on October 7, prompting Israel to invade the tiny Palestinian territory to wipe out the Islamist movement after several inconclusive wars since 2007.
About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Hamas attack, according to Israeli figures, the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.
Since then, Gaza’s Hamas-run government said at least 13,000 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,500 children, by persistent Israeli bombardment.
The United Nations says two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been left homeless.
Israeli tanks and troops stormed into Gaza late last month and have since captured large areas in the north and northwest and east around Gaza City, the Israeli military says.
But Hamas and local witnesses say militants are waging guerrilla-style warfare in pockets of the congested, urbanized north, including parts of Gaza City and the sprawling Jabalia and Beach refugee camps.
The armed wing of the Islamic Jihad militant group, an ally of Hamas, said its fighters ambushed seven Israeli military vehicles during clashes in the northern areas of Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia and Al-Saftawi and west of Jabalia. Reuters could not independently confirm the matches.
In Beijing, Arab and Muslim ministers joined international calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as their delegation visited the world’s major capitals to press for an end to the fighting and to allow humanitarian aid deliveries to affected civilians.
Some help has come in through Rafah’s commercial crossing with Egypt, where 40 trucks with equipment for an Emirati field hospital are expected soon, according to a statement from Gaza’s General Authority for Crossings and Borders.
HOSTAGE RELEASE DEAL HOPEFUL
Even as fighting continued on the ground in Gaza, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that Israel hoped a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas “in the coming days.”
On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main obstacles to a deal were now “very small”, with mainly “practical and logistical” issues remaining.
A White House official said the “very complicated, very sensitive” talks were making progress.
They coincided with Israel preparing to expand its offensive against Hamas into Gaza’s southern half, signaled by increasing airstrikes on targets Israel sees as dens for armed militants.
However, Israel’s main ally, the United States, warned on Sunday not to begin combat operations in the south until military planners had taken into account the safety of Palestinian civilians.
Gaza’s traumatized population has been on the move since the start of the war, sheltering in hospitals or trudging from north to south and in some cases back again in desperate efforts to stay out of the line of fire.
Additional reporting by Clauda Tanios and Reuters agencies. Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Heinrich Editing by Peter Graff
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