DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – Thousands of people appear to have fled Gaza’s largest hospital as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants battle outside its gates, but hundreds of patients, including dozens of babies, who are at risk dying due to lack of electricity, remained inside, health officials said Monday.
With only intermittent communications, it was difficult to reconcile competing claims from the Israeli military, which said it was a safe corridor for people to move south, and Palestinian health officials inside the hospitalwho said the area was surrounded by constant heavy gunfire.
The military also said it had placed 300 liters (79 gallons) of fuel near the hospital to help power its generators, but that Hamas militants had prevented staff from reaching it. The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza disputed that, saying the fuel would have provided less than an hour of electricity.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Shifa has been without water for three days and “doesn’t function as a hospital anymore,” in a post on social media.
Both sides have taken the hospital’s situation as a symbol of the greater war, now in its sixth week. The fights were triggered by Hamas’ unprecedented surprise attack on October 7 into Israel, and Israel’s response has brought unprecedented levels of death and destruction to Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents, nearly two-thirds of whom have had to flee their homes without any safe haven in the besieged territory.
For Palestinians Shifa evokes the suffering of the civilian population. Doctors short of supplies are performing operations on war-wounded patients, including children, without anesthesia. Thousands of people displaced by airstrikes that have destroyed entire city blocks have sought shelter in its darkened corridors.
Israel says the hospital is the prime example of Hamas’ alleged use of human shields, claiming – without evidence – that the militants have a command center and other military infrastructure in and below the medical compound. Hamas and hospital staff deny these allegations.
Mohammed Zaqout, director of hospitals in Gaza, says there are about 650 patients and critically injured people in Shifa, being treated by about 500 medical staff. He estimated that around 2,500 displaced Palestinians are sheltering inside hospital buildings.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Health estimated that around 3,000 doctors and patients, as well as 15,000 to 20,000 displaced people, were sheltering there.
A UN health official said many displaced families and patients with moderate injuries fled Shifa as Israeli forces surrounded the hospital over the weekend. The official, who was not authorized to brief reporters and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said most of the remaining patients could only be moved by ambulances and other special procedures.
It is unclear where they will go, as several hospitals and clinics in Gaza have been forced to close, while others are already operating at full capacity with dwindling supplies.
The Ministry of Health says 20 patients, including three babies, have died since the hospital’s emergency generator ran out of fuel on Saturday. It said a further 36 babies and other patients are at risk of dying because there is no way to operate life-saving medical equipment.
The military said troops would help move babies on Sunday, without saying how it would transport them or where they would be moved. There was no indication Monday that anyone had been moved.
Medical Aid for Palestinians, a UK-based charity that has been supporting Shifa’s neonatal intensive care unit, said transferring critically ill infants is complex. “With ambulances unable to reach the hospital … and no hospital with the capacity to receive them, there is no indication of how this can be done safely,” CEO Melanie Ward said. She said the only option was to pause the matches and put in fuel.
Christos Christou, the president of Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it would take weeks to evacuate the patients.
The US has pushed for temporary pauses that would allow for the wider distribution of much-needed aid to civilians in the territory, where conditions are more and more terrible.
But Israel has only agreed to short daily periods where civilians can flee ground fighting in northern Gaza and head south on foot along two main roads. Israel continues to attack what it says are militant targets across southern Gaza, often killing women and children.
More than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and militant deaths. Around 2,700 people have been reported missing.
Health officials, many of whom work from Shifa, have not updated this toll since Friday because of the difficulty in accessing hard-hit areas and gathering information.
At least 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial Hamas attack. Palestinian militants holding nearly 240 hostages seized in the raid, including men, women, children and older adults. The military says 44 soldiers have been killed in ground operations in Gaza.
About 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from communities near Gaza, where Palestinian militants still fire barrages of rockets, and along the northern border with Lebanon, where Israel and the militant Hezbollah group have repeatedly traded fire and risk a wider conflict. Attack by Hezbollah on Sunday, wounding seven Israeli troops and 10 others, Israel’s military and rescue services said.
This story has been corrected to write that the Israeli military says 44, not 48, soldiers have been killed in ground operations in Gaza.
Magdy reported from Cairo.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.