Israel lays siege to Gaza hospital as Rafah stares death in the face

Displaced Palestinians take refuge at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on 15 December.

Ismael Mohamad UPI

Israel escalated its siege on a hospital in Khan Younis while international concern mounted over a threatened incursion further south into Rafah, the last place of relative safety for the now mostly displaced civilian population of Gaza.

South Africa announced on Tuesday that it had made an urgent request to the International Court of Justice, asking the UN tribunal to use “its power to prevent further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza” after Israel announced its intention to expand its offensive in Rafah.

The human rights group Al-Haq warned that such an assault on Rafah “will result in thousands of Palestinian civilians killed on a scale that has not been witnessed in the previous four months of Israel’s genocidal military campaign against Gaza.”

Martin Griffiths, the UN relief chief, said on Tuesday that he was “sounding the alarm once again: Military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza.”

He added that “they could also leave an already fragile humanitarian operation at death’s door.”

The more than 1 million people “crammed into Rafah” are “staring death in the face,” Griffiths said.

“Extreme danger”

Palestinian medical staff, patients and their companions, and displaced people at Nasser Medical Complex, in Khan Younis, were also staring death in the face after Israel ordered the evacuation of the facility on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The hospital, described by the head of the World Health Organization as “the backbone of the health system in southern Gaza,” has been under siege and escalating attacks for more than three weeks – a repeat of Israel’s assaults on hospitals in other areas invaded by its ground forces.

On Wednesday, thousands of people evacuated the facility under Israeli order. The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said that “thousands of displaced people, the families of medical staff, and patients who cannot move” were forcibly evacuated.

“They are threatened with extreme danger,” according to Ashraf al-Qedra, the ministry’s spokesperson.

Videos show people streaming out of the hospital and evacuees massed at a checkpoint:

Journalist Mohammed al-Helo said that the situation was so dangerous on Wednesday that many of those who attempted to leave Nasser Medical Complex returned to the facility because of the relentless Israeli fire:
The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza warned on Tuesday that the situation at Nasser Medical Complex was growing increasingly catastrophic.

“Health personnel, patients and their companions in the complex are in extreme danger,” al-Qedra said.

Israeli troops demolished the northern wall of the hospital and ordered its administration to evacuate displaced people sheltering at the facility, while allowing patients and medical staff to remain, the ministry said on Tuesday.

Despite the evacuation order, Israeli troops were shooting at people leaving the facility, preventing staff from transferring deceased persons to the mortuary.

Shaban Tabash, the head of the nursing department at Nasser Medical Complex, said on Tuesday that anyone attempting to leave or enter the facility is being targeted by Israeli fire.

“People are afraid to leave the hospital because they hear reports of people being shot at,” Doctors Without Borders said on Tuesday. “Those who wish to leave must be granted safe passage out.”

Al Jazeera published graphic footage of a quadcopter drone in the courtyard of Nasser Medical Complex and the body of a child lying on the ground at the gate to the hospital. Dogs are seen mauling the slain child’s body in footage broadcast by the Qatari network hours later, as sniper fire made it too dangerous for medics to reach him.

“Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed or wounded by Israeli snipers and quadcopter drones” since the beginning of the military offensive in Gaza, according to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Israeli troops execute detainee

Ahmad al-Mughrabi, the head of the burns department, said that Israeli troops sent a Palestinian detainee, wearing PPE and his hands cuffed, into Nasser Medical Complex to deliver the military’s order to evacuate on Tuesday. When he returned to the troops as they had ordered, they executed the young man.

On Tuesday, Israeli troops in tanks were recorded on video ordering the evacuation of the hospital, saying those who do not come out will be putting their lives in danger. Troops called the people inside “animals.”
The health ministry said that schools in the vicinity of Nasser Medical Complex caught fire after being targeted. The blaze spread to the facility’s medical equipment storage area, destroying it completely, as well as significantly damaging the medical supplies storage.

The hospital’s emergency department is flooded with sewage water and the accumulation of waste in the facility poses a grave health risk, the ministry said.

Video shows patients on hospital beds in the flooded corridors of the facility:

Al-Qedra, the health ministry spokesperson, said in an interview with The New Humanitarian that more than 180 bodies had been buried in the hospital’s compound since Israeli troops surrounded it. The bodies could not be taken for burial elsewhere.

Killed in search of water

On Monday, seven Palestinians were reported killed and another 14 injured by sniper fire in the courtyard of Nasser Medical Complex.

Graphic video shows an older man crawling into the emergency department of the hospital after being shot by an Israeli sniper at the entrance to the facility. His leg trails blood behind him before he is dragged away from the door and placed on a stretcher.

More than 20 displaced people were killed by Israeli snipers while attempting to reach the facility last week, Al Jazeera reported. On Friday, the broadcaster published a video showing a man who appears to have been shot in the leg at the hospital gate rolling himself away.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said that some of those who were killed by Israeli snipers were attempting to obtain drinking water near the hospital, including 14-year-old Rua Atef Qadeeh.

A displaced person sheltering at the hospital was killed by gunfire from a quadcopter drone while trying to access the internet to communicate with his family on the building’s roof last Thursday, according to the rights group.

Also last week, a nurse was shot and critically injured inside an operating theater at Nasser Medical Complex and a woman was shot in the head and injured in front of the hospital.

Gynecologist Amira al-Asool has been hailed as a hero after video showed her risking her life to come to the aid of a wounded man outside the facility on Saturday despite Israeli sniper and quadcopter fire.

Girl dies due to power outage

In addition to sniper and quadcopter fire, Palestinians have lost their lives as a result of Israel’s siege on the facility.

A 10-year-old girl who was hospitalized at Nasser Medical Complex died due to a lack of electricity, according to a doctor at the facility.

There are more than 20 patients in Nasser’s intensive care units, according to The New Humanitarian, as well as “seven premature newborns and dozens of patients in need of dialysis whose treatment has been interrupted because of the siege.”

Manar Fayyad, an anesthesiologist at Nasser Medical Complex, told The New Humanitarian that Israel’s attacks “are in line with the actions taken against al-Shifa hospital, where the Israeli forces had besieged the hospital days before they stormed the facility.”

Located in Gaza City, al-Shifa was Gaza’s largest and most advanced hospital before it was besieged and raided in November.

Very limited services had resumed at al-Shifa in recent weeks after it was rendered nonfunctional by the Israeli raid months earlier.

But the restored partial functioning of al-Shifa is threatened by renewed Israeli attacks on the facility, where five displaced people were killed last week, according to Euro-Med Monitor.

Troops raid Al-Amal Hospital, arrest staff and patients

The UN human rights office in Palestine said that it was “gravely concerned” after Israeli troops raided Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis on Friday.

Like Nasser Medical Complex, Al-Amal has been under siege since 22 January. Around that same time, Israeli troops stormed al-Khair hospital in Khan Younis, “killing several patients, displacing and arresting people, and forcing the surviving patients — many of whom were in poor health – to evacuate under gunfire,” according to Euro-Med.

Al-Amal was ordered evacuated on 5 February, forcibly transferring some “8,000 people who had nowhere else to go,” according to Euro-Med.

“Forty elderly people, eighty sick and injured individuals, and 100 administrative and medical staff members were left behind at the facility,” the rights group added.

Israeli troops raided the facility on Friday, detaining “18 people, including nine medical and volunteer staff, four wounded persons and five companions, and caused significant damage to medical and logistical equipment,” according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society, which administers al-Amal, said that money was stolen from the hospital’s safe, as well as from patients and displaced people.

Israeli troops fired on vehicles including Red Crescent ambulances in the courtyard of the hospital, the humanitarian group said:

Attacks on healthcare in Gaza

The World Health Organization said last week that it had recorded more than 350 attacks on healthcare in Gaza since 7 October. Nearly 650 people were killed and more than 800 were injured in those attacks, which affected nearly 100 healthcare facilities, including 27 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals.

Euro-Med said that Israel’s attacks on Gaza’s healthcare system are aimed at reducing “Palestinians’ chances of survival.”

Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British Palestinian surgeon who was volunteering in Gaza during the first weeks of the war, has said that the targeting of health facilities and medical workers is aimed at making Gaza unlivable and to force the expulsion of its population.

More than 28,500 Palestinians have been reported killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Euro-Med Monitor estimates that more than 7,800 Palestinians are missing under the rubble of destroyed buildings. The group projects an actual death toll of around 36,700 people, including more than 14,000 children.


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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.