Hospitals in Gaza City were increasingly under siege on Friday, with hundreds of seriously ill and injured patients and thousands of displaced people stranded on hospital grounds as intense, close-quarters fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters raged around them.
The precariousness of hospitals was highlighted on Friday morning when projectiles struck the interior of the Al Shifa complex, Gaza’s largest hospital, and a video emerged showing people being driven back by gunfire as they attempted to to evacuate another hospital.
Israeli tanks and troops have surrounded several hospitals in Gaza, hospital administrators and the Gaza Health Ministry announced Friday. An Israeli army spokesman said of the hospitals: “we are slowly closing in on them” and urged people to leave them.
Israel has long maintained that Hamas uses hospitals as shields, operating from within, while thousands of Palestinian civilians have taken refuge on their grounds.
The head of Al Shifa Hospital said the hospital was hit four times on Friday, killing seven people and injuring several others. The sources of the strikes and the extent of the damage were not immediately known.
In what appears to be his strongest comments yet on the dire situation for Gaza civilians, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Friday that “far too many Palestinians have been killed.” His remarks came as close as possible to criticism of Israel’s conduct of the five-week war.
“Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches them,” Blinken told reporters in New Delhi after a diplomatic tour through countries in the Middle East and Asia. “Far too many people have suffered in recent weeks. And we want to do everything we can to avoid harm and maximize the help that reaches them.
The total death toll in Gaza, as reported by health authorities, part of the Hamas-led government, surpassed 11,000 on Friday. Last month, President Biden warned against accepting the numbers provided by Gaza officials, but on Wednesday a senior State Department official told Congress that the true death toll numbers could be “even more higher than those cited.
Among those killed were more than 100 staff members of a United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and at least 39 journalists and other media workers, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The rate of journalist deaths is the highest in any conflict since it began tracking such deaths in 1992, the committee said.
Gaza authorities have not said how many of those killed were leaders and fighters of Hamas, Israel’s declared target, but say the highest toll is among the most vulnerable. More than 4,500 children and 3,000 women in Gaza have been killed since the start of the conflict, they reported, and nearly 27,500 people have been injured.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Friday revised the government’s estimate of the number of people killed by Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 from more than 1,400 to around 1,200.
Shortly after the October 7 raid and the start of Israeli retaliation, hospital complexes in Gaza became makeshift refugee centers. Al Shifa, in particular, was home to thousands of displaced Gazans whose homes had been damaged or who simply thought Israeli forces would be less likely to attack a hospital than their neighborhoods.
Gaza’s hospitals have become a symbol of the extraordinary perils of continuing a war in a territory where tens of thousands of fighters live among – and in tunnels beneath – the more than 2 million tightly packed residents. against others. In one of the deadliest incidents of the war, a projectile exploded between the buildings of the Ahli Arab Hospital on October 17, killing possibly hundreds of people sheltering there. Hamas blamed Israel, while Israelis and Western governments said it was a faulty rocket fired by Palestinians toward Israel. A video analysis by The New York Times found that the evidence cited by Israel had been misinterpreted, leaving the cause of the explosion in doubt.
The Israeli military has repeatedly pointed the finger at Al Shifa in recent weeks, saying the hospital concealed a major Hamas military compound, where the group’s leaders and fighters operated from inside the facility, including in a network of command posts, supply depots and crossings. hidden underneath.
Hamas denies operating within or under the hospital, as does the hospital’s director, Mohammad Abu Salmiya.
The Gaza Ministry of Health released Friday a graphic video living conditions at Al Shifa Hospital, where there are not enough beds, doctors or nurses for the flow of patients. It showed wounded people, alive and apparently dead, lying on stretchers on a blood-stained floor.
“At this point, there is not much we can do for the wounded we are receiving, only the bare minimum,” Dr. Abu Salmiya said in a telephone interview. “There are people who need complex operations, but we cannot perform them, because we simply do not have the capacity or the drugs. »
He said the hospital complex was hit four times on Friday, including two strikes on the obstetrics department.
Videos verified by The New York Times show a projectile emerging from the pre-dawn darkness and entering the hospital complex. It’s unclear what type of weapon was involved, who fired it or what damage it caused.
A video from the grounds of Al-Nasr Hospital, published on X, shows dozens of women, men and children waving white clothes over their heads, exiting through a gate, stopping at the sound of a gunshot, then running back through the gate as more shots are fired. It was unclear from the video who was shooting or whether anyone had been hit.
“We are aware of the sensitivity of hospitals,” a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, told reporters Friday evening, adding that was the reason troops were arriving “slowly.” He said Israel wants people to leave hospitals and join the exodus to southern Gaza, and “we have seen people leaving some hospitals.”
The Israeli military “does not shoot at hospitals,” Col. Hecht said, but added: “if we see Hamas terrorists shooting from hospitals, we will do what we have to do.”
On Thursday, Israeli troops conducted ground fighting “near Shifa Hospital,” according to the Israeli military, attacking what it said were Hamas command centers. “The terrorists located in the basements of Shifa this evening can hear the deafening noise of our tanks and our bulldozers,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday evening.
As Israeli aerial bombardments intensified in October, more than 60,000 displaced people took refuge in Al Shifa. But since the ground invasion began two weeks ago, many Gazans have left the compound as it became increasingly clear that the Israeli military viewed Al Shifa as a possible threat, and perhaps as a target.
These fears morphed into Israeli claims that Al Shifa has links to Hamas militants. Last week, an Israeli airstrike destroyed an ambulance near the hospital that the Israeli military said was used to transport Hamas fighters. The hospital chief said 13 people were killed.
Late last month, for the first time, the Israeli military publicly revealed where it claimed specific facilities were hidden in Al Shifa, based on what it said was intelligence. The army’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, told reporters that Hamas “exercises its command and control in different departments of the hospital,” a statement that raised fears that the forces Israeli forces are preparing the ground for an attack on Al Shifa.
Israeli authorities also released videos They say they show Palestinian prisoners involved in the October 7 attack on Israel speaking about Hamas’ use of Al Shifa.
Inside the hospital on Friday, staff members were preparing for the worst, including a possible Israeli ground raid on the hospital, Dr. Abu Salmiya said. They have no immediate plans to completely evacuate the complex, he added.
“We will stay with our patients,” he said.
The report was provided by Alan Yuhas, Gaya Gupta, Iyad Abuheweila, Raja Abdulrahim And Edward Wong.