Israeli troops target ambulances, kill medic in Gaza City

Slain Palestinians are brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital following Israeli airstrikes in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, 8 February.

Ali Hamad APA images

Israeli troops deliberately targeted a Palestine Red Crescent Society convoy, killing a paramedic and wounding two others, the humanitarian group said on Thursday.

The convoy was attempting to transfer patients from al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City to facilities in the south when it was attacked on Wednesday. The mission had been coordinated with the Israeli military, the humanitarian group said.

Video of the targeted ambulance appears to show bullet holes in its windshield:

Red Crescent paramedic Mohammed al-Omari, father to three children aged between 8 and 14, was killed. He and the rest of the crew were trapped for more than an hour while bleeding, according to the Red Crescent.

The Red Crescent said that 12 of its colleagues, including al-Omari, have been “killed while carrying out their humanitarian work since the beginning of the war.”

The actual number may be higher. The fate of two Red Crescent paramedics and a young girl they were attempting to rescue in Gaza City last week remains unknown.

Loay Elbasyouni, who helped engineer the NASA Mars helicopter after being educated in UNRWA schools in Gaza, said his parents were among the patients in the convoy that was attacked on Wednesday.

Elbasyouni said that his parents survived “by a miracle” but remained stuck at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

None of Gaza’s hospitals fully functional

Al-Shifa was the largest and most advanced hospital in Gaza before it was besieged and raided by Israeli troops in November.

The hospital had resumed the provision of minimal services in recent weeks. But the World Health Organization said on Thursday that the intensification of hostilities in the area in recent days has “undone progress.”

The UN health agency said that “we cannot let the cornerstone of Gaza’s health system collapse again.”

None of Gaza’s 36 hospitals remain fully functional and only one-third of them are partially functional, according to the World Health Organization.

A mere four out of 22 health facilities run by UNRWA remain operational, according to the embattled agency serving Palestine refugees.

The destruction of the health sector has been a key feature of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British Palestinian surgeon who was working 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.

Al-Amal Hospital under siege

Israeli forces are besieging hospitals in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, which has been the focus of its operations in recent weeks.

The Red Crescent reported heavy artillery shelling and gunfire in close proximity to Al-Amal Hospital, which it administers, in Khan Younis on Thursday. The hospital building was hit with shrapnel, endangering staff and patients.

The hospital, which is adjacent to the Red Crescent’s headquarters in Khan Younis, has been under siege for 18 days, according to the humanitarian group.

On Wednesday, two patients being treated at the hospital were injured by Israeli troops positioned at the hospital gate.

That same day, the Red Crescent reported that a 77-year-old patient died at Al-Amal Hospital after the depletion of the facility’s oxygen supplies.

Last week, Hedaya Hamad, a Red Crescent program director, was shot and killed by Israeli troops while attempting to rescue displaced people sheltering at Al-Amal after they were shot by soldiers.

Two Red Crescent volunteers were arrested while attempting to evacuate Al-Amal, the humanitarian group said on Tuesday.

Some 8,000 displaced people sheltering at Al-Amal and the Red Crescent headquarters were evacuated on Monday, with only a few dozen elderly displaced people and 80 patients remaining, along with around 100 medical staff.

Nurse shot in hospital operating theater

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said on Thursday that a humanitarian catastrophe was unfolding at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis.

Some 300 medical staff, 450 patients and 10,000 displaced people are present at the facility “amid a severe shortage of fuel, anesthesia, as well as intensive care and surgical supplies,” UN OCHA reported.

Citing the health ministry, OCHA added that “the Israeli military has prevented the movement of ambulances, the disposal of medical and non-medical waste, and the arrival of the wounded and sick to Nasser hospital.”

A nurse was reportedly shot and critically injured while in the hospital’s operating theater on Thursday and a woman was reportedly shot and killed while fetching water from the facility on Wednesday, according to OCHA.

The nurse who was shot in the operating theater was directly targeted with a bullet to his chest and is in critical condition, according to a medical worker at Nasser Medical Complex.

While OCHA said that the person who was shot by a sniper while attempting to collect water at Al-Amal was a woman, Al Jazeera identified her as 14-year-old Ruwa Qdeih.

Video shows people recovering her lifeless body from the street, her blood staining the road, and then using a pulley system to move a container of water from one side of the road to the other.

“Nowhere left for people to flee to”

After laying waste to northern and central Gaza, Khan Younis in the south has been the focus of Israel’s ground operations after the collapse of a temporary truce in late November.

A senior Israeli military officer said on Thursday that its forces were “peeling back” Hamas infrastructure in the area, where they say they believe Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, is hiding.

On Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, rejected a ceasefire proposal put forward by Hamas, insisting that “only total victory will allow us to restore security in Israel, both in the north and in the south.”

The majority of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people are now concentrated in Rafah, along the southern boundary with Egypt. It is also the point of entry for most of the very limited aid being brought into Gaza.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Thursday that an assault on overcrowded Rafah would “risk the aid system in Gaza coming to a halt.”

Angelita Caredda, a regional director for the humanitarian group, said that it could “turn Rafah into a zone of bloodshed and destruction that people won’t be able to escape.”

“There is nowhere left for people to flee to,” she said.

“Disease and starvation already persist among the displaced population” in Rafah, the Norwegian Refugee Council said. Hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, smallpox, lice and influenza were reported in each of the nine shelters hosting 27,400 people in Rafah that were assessed by the group.

Aid missions denied and obstructed

The UN secretary-general said on Wednesday that he was “alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah – where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been squeezed in a desperate search for safety.”

António Guterres added that “such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.”

The Biden administration also says it opposes an Israeli incursion into Rafah. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, who has fiercely defended Israel’s operations throughout the war, said on Thursday that it “would be a disaster for those people and we would not support it.”

At least 27,840 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Gaza, with another 67,300 injured. Thousands of others remain missing, many of them feared to be dead under the rubble or in Gaza’s streets.

An untold number of Palestinians have died from hunger and disease in a secondary wave of mortality resulting from Israel’s military offensive and siege.

“The risk of famine in Gaza is increasing by the day, particularly for hundreds of thousands of people in northern Gaza who have been predominantly cut off from assistance,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday.

Since the beginning of the year, only “seven out of 28 planned humanitarian aid missions to deliver food to the north … were facilitated by the Israeli authorities,” the UN added.

One of the aid missions “was partially facilitated, eight were impeded, seven were denied, and five were postponed due to internal operational constraints,” according to the UN.

On Wednesday, at least 13 Palestinians were reported killed and others injured when people gathered at a water distribution truck in Gaza City came under fire.

That same day, “multiple casualties were reported” when a group of people awaiting humanitarian aid trucks west of Gaza City were fired upon, according to OCHA.

“This is reportedly at least the sixth incident involving casualties among people waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City,” the UN office said.

On Tuesday, six Palestinian police officers were reported killed when a vehicle guarding an aid truck in eastern Rafah was struck.


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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.