Israeli forces have reached the gates of al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza City, where hundreds of patients, including dozens of babies, are trapped amid intense Israeli bombardment.
The hospital has been under siege for days by Israel’s military, which claims that the hospital hides a Hamas base in tunnels beneath it. Hamas denies the allegation and says the hospital is a civilian facility that provides vital health services to the besieged population.
According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra, who was inside the hospital, at least 650 patients remain in the hospital, as well as staff and thousands of civilians who have sought shelter there. He said an Israeli tank was stationed at the hospital gate and that Israeli snipers and drones were firing into the hospital, making it impossible for medics and patients to move around.
“The tank is outside the gate of the outpatient clinic department, this is how the situation looks this morning,” al-Qudra told the Reuters news agency by phone on Monday. “We are besieged and are inside a circle of death,” he said.
He added that 32 patients had died in the past three days, including three newborn babies, as a result of the siege of the hospital and the cut-off of its power. The hospital relies on fuel for electricity generators, which is running low due to the Israeli blockade and attacks on fuel trucks.
Israel has told civilians to leave and medics to send patients elsewhere, but it was unclear where they would go. Several hospitals and clinics in Gaza have been forced to shut down, while others are already working at full capacity with dwindling supplies. Meanwhile, Israeli forces have surrounded the facility and prevented ambulances from entering or leaving.
Some reports on Monday suggested that thousands of people have fled the hospital, but huge numbers also remain trapped within. Al-Shifa director Muhammad Abu Salmiya described the area around the hospital as a “battlefield”, but said the hospital’s staff have pledged to stay with patients until the “last moment”.
“We will not leave, because we know if we leave the hospital, dozens of patients will die,” Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera.
The escalating bombardment comes after an Israeli strike on the al-Shifa Hospital early on Friday killed at least 13 people and wounded several others, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-governed enclave. Health officials said later on Friday that Israeli tanks were closing in on at least four hospitals in northern Gaza from all directions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “extremely disturbed” by the situation at the al-Shifa Hospital and called for the protection of health workers and facilities in Gaza.
“Many of the thousands sheltering at the hospital are forced to evacuate due to security risks, while many still remain there,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Israeli military, whose ground forces entered the Strip in late October and quickly encircled the north’s main settlement Gaza City, has said that al-Shifa is the primary target in its battle to seize control of the northern half of the enclave. Israel says that Hamas fighters have an underground headquarters in tunnels beneath the hospital and are deliberately using its patients as a shield.
Hamas, which governs Gaza, has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel in response to the Israeli offensive, which has killed more than 12,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and wounded more than 20,000 others, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says it has lost 67 soldiers and three civilians in the conflict.
The UN Security Council has failed to agree on a resolution to end the violence, as the US, Israel’s main ally, has blocked several attempts to issue a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire. The US says it is working behind the scenes to broker a truce, but has also reiterated its support for Israel’s right to defend itself.