Israel raids main Gaza hospital as Rafah concerns grow

The Israel Occupation Forces said on Thursday that troops had raided the biggest functioning hospital in Gaza, as video posted online showed chaos, shouting and the sound of shooting in darkened corridors that were filled with dust and smoke, Reuters has reported.

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari described the raid on Nasser Hospital as “precise and limited” and said it was based on credible information that Hamas was hiding in the facility, had kept hostages there and that bodies of hostages may still be there. A spokesperson for Hamas called Israel’s claim “lies”.

Health authorities in the Palestinian enclave said that Israel had forced out displaced people and families of medical staff sheltering in Nasser Hospital, with some 2,000 arriving in the southern border city of Rafah overnight, and some pushing north to Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza.

The UN humanitarian office had said on Wednesday that the hospital was besieged by Israeli forces with allegations of sniper fire at the facility, endangering the lives of medics, patients and thousands of displaced people. The charity Medicins San Frontieres said people ordered by Israel to evacuate the hospital faced an impossible choice, either to stay “and become a potential target” or leave “into an apocalyptic landscape” of bombings.

Video clips circulating on social media show crowds of people leaving the hospital and shuffling past the bodies of Palestinians shot and killed by Israeli snipers. With tanks positioned outside the hospital, and drones overhead, a voice is heard on loudspeakers ordering, “Get out, you animals!”

In another clip, a Palestinian man wearing white overalls with his wrists tied together was sent into the hospital complex on Monday to tell those inside what Israel’s orders were. He was later shot dead by an Israeli sniper, as were three other Palestinians who were using the designated evacuation route to leave the hospital.

Fighting at the hospital comes as Israel faces growing international pressure to show restraint in its offensive, after vowing to press ahead into Rafah, the last relatively safe place for civilians in the enclave. Attacks that have destroyed the majority of Gaza’s medical facilities have caused particular concern throughout the conflict, including Israeli raids on hospitals in other cities, shelling in the vicinity of hospitals and the targeting of ambulances and medical staff.

As the massive bombardment destroyed swathes of residential districts and forced most people from their homes, hospitals quickly became the focus for displaced people seeking shelter around buildings that they thought would be more likely to be safe.

Israel accuses Hamas of regularly using hospitals, ambulances and other medical facilities for military purposes. It has aired footage taken by soldiers that it says shows tunnels containing weapons below some hospitals. The Israeli military said on Thursday that it had apprehended a number of suspects at the Nasser Hospital and that its operations there were continuing.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Israel’s statement accusing the group of hiding fighters or keeping hostages at the hospital was “lies”. He added that, “All previous Israeli allegations against hospitals have been proven to be false.”

Speaking about the hospital raid, Hagari said, “This sensitive operation was prepared with precision and is being conducted by Special Forces who underwent specific training.” He claimed that one objective of the operation was to ensure that the hospital could continue treating patients. “We communicated this in a number of conversations we had with the hospital staff.” There was no obligation to evacuate, he added.

According to Palestinian Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra, though, Israel had forced doctors at Nasser Hospital to abandon patients in intensive care, putting their lives in danger.

Videos that Reuters verified on Thursday as having been filmed inside Nasser Hospital, although it could not verify when, showed scenes of chaos and terror. Men walked through dark corridors using the lights from their phones, with plaster dust swirling around and debris lying in the corridors, at one point wheeling a bed through a damaged area.

When gunshots rang out in one video, a doctor shouted, “Is there anyone still inside? There is gunfire, there is gunfire — heads down.” Another man in a video said the Israeli army had surrounded the hospital and nobody could get out.

The World Health Organisation has previously said that half the medical staff of Nasser Hospital had already fled.

(Source: MEMO)