Israel’s war on Hamas homes in on Gaza hospitals

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Gaza/Jerusalem (Reuters) – Palestinian officials said two babies had died and dozens more were at risk after fuel ran out at Gaza’s largest hospital on Saturday, while Israel said it was ready to evacuate babies from the facility.

As the humanitarian situation worsened, the Gaza’s border authority announced that the Rafah land crossing into Egypt would reopen on Sunday for foreign passport holders after being closed on Friday.

Amid continued fighting, Hamas said it had completely or partially destroyed more than 160 Israeli military targets in Gaza, including more than 25 vehicles in the past 48 hours.

But an Israeli military spokesperson said Hamas had lost control of northern Gaza.

The Israeli military will help evacuate babies trapped in Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

“The staff of the Shifa hospital has requested that tomorrow we help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital. We will provide the assistance needed,” Hagari told a news conference.

Israel said earlier that doctors, patients and thousands of evacuees who have taken refuge at hospitals in northern Gaza must leave so it can tackle Hamas gunmen who it says have placed command centres under and around them.

Hamas denies using hospitals in this way. Medical staff say patients could die if they are moved and Palestinian officials say Israeli fire makes it dangerous for others to leave.

“It’s totally a war zone, it’s a totally scary atmosphere here in the hospital,” Ahmed al-Mokhallalati, a senior plastic surgeon at Al Shifa hospital, told Reuters. “It’s continuous bombardment for more than 24 hours now.”

Most of the hospital staff and people sheltering at the hospital had left, he said, but 500 patients were still there.

The Israeli military denied endangering the hospital.

“There are clashes between IDF (Israel Defense Forces) troops and Hamas terrorist operatives around the hospital. There is no shooting at the hospital and there is no siege,” said Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of coordination and liaison at COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body handling civil affairs in Gaza.

A Palestinian health ministry spokesman said Israeli shelling had killed a patient in intensive care.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, who represents the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, said Israeli army snipers on the rooftops of buildings near the hospital fired into the medical complex from time to time, limiting people’s ability to move.

“We are besieged inside the Al Shifa Medical Complex, and the (Israeli) occupation has targeted most of the buildings inside,” he told Reuters by phone.

The hospital suspended operations after fuel ran out, Qidra said, adding that two babies had died in an incubator, where there were 45 babies in total.

Clashes All Night

Residents said Israeli troops, who went to war to eliminate Hamas after it staged a bloody cross-border assault on Oct. 7, had been clashing with Hamas gunmen all night in and around Gaza City where the hospital is located.

The military wing of Hamas ally Islamic Jihad, the Al-Quds Brigades, posted on social media: “We are engaged in violent clashes in the vicinity of Al Shifa Medical Complex, Al-Nasr neighbourhood, and Al-Shati camp in Gaza.”

The Al-Nasr neighbourhood is home to several major hospitals.

An Israeli military spokesperson was asked at a briefing if troops planned to enter Gaza hospitals at some point.

“The hospitals need to be evacuated in order to deal with Hamas,” the spokesperson said. “We intend on dealing with Hamas who have turned hospitals into fortified positions.”

Hamas says it does not use hospitals for its military purposes.

Israel said earlier it had killed what it called a Hamas “terrorist” who it said had prevented the evacuation of another hospital in the north, which Palestinian officials have said is out of service and surrounded by tanks.

“(Ahmed) Siam held hostage approximately 1,000 Gazan residents at the Rantissi Hospital and prevented them from evacuating southwards for their safety,” an Israeli military statement said.

It said Siam was killed along with other militants while hiding in the “al Buraq” school. Palestinian officials told Reuters on Friday at least 25 Palestinians had been killed in an Israeli strike at the school, which was packed with evacuees.

Babies At Risk In Hospital

Israel said rockets were still being fired from Gaza into southern Israel, where it has said about 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage by Hamas militants last month.

Palestinian officials said on Friday 11,078 Gaza residents had been killed in air and artillery strikes since Oct. 7, around 40% of them children.

Israel said it had increased the number of places in which it said it would stop firing for several hours at a time so Gazans could move south and that many had done so.

“We have over the last three days seen a mass evacuation of at least 150,000 people,” a military spokesman said. “And we have seen more people evacuating today as the humanitarian pause in Jabalia area has been implemented.”

In London, at least 300,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched through the city, with police arresting nearly 100 far-right counter-protesters to stop them ambushing the main rally. Some pro-Palestinian demonstrators were stopped and searched.

More than 20,000 people joined a pro-Palestinian rally in Brussels.

Meeting in Saudi Arabia, Muslim and Arab countries called for an immediate end to military operations in Gaza, rejecting Israel’s justification of its actions against Palestinians as self-defence.

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