Calls for a ceasefire mount as Gaza under communications blackout for fourth day

Palestinian Health Ministry calls for an investigation following reports of Israeli army burying patients alive outside Kamal Adwan hospital

Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli raid at Kamal Adwan Hospital. Reuters
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Shelling and bombing of Gaza city continued overnight on Sunday, despite calls for a ceasefire and prisoner exchange deal.

An Israeli air strike killed 24 Palestinians and wounded others, Gaza's health ministry reported on Sunday.

“Twenty-four Palestinians were killed this morning in Jabalia camp by an Israeli bombardment. Many are still missing under the rubble,” the ministry said.

At least 12 people died in attacks on Deir Al Balah, it added.

The enclave remained under a communications blackout on Sunday for the fourth day in a row, the longest period since the outbreak of the war on October 7.

Internet and phone lines went down on Thursday evening and were still inaccessible on Saturday morning, according to internet access advocacy group

As Israel's bombardment of Gaza continued, there were renewed calls for a ceasefire after more than 10 weeks of war.

However, a Hamas statement said that there would be no “negotiations for the exchange of prisoners unless the aggression against our people stops once and for all”.

This came after sources with knowledge of the negotiations told The National on Saturday that Hamas and Israel have reached a tentative deal on a truce in Gaza and a detainee and hostage swap.

They said the arrangement would be similar to one that lasted a week, before it collapsed on December 1, when Israel shifted its ground offensive to the south of the coastal enclave.

So far, there has been no official confirmation from the parties involved in the negotiations that a deal has been reached. The talks, like previous rounds, have been held behind closed doors.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday night that following “the defeat of Hamas”, Gaza city will be “demilitarised and under Israeli security control”.

Calls for a revival of talks with Hamas on a hostage exchange deal have increased since the army admitted that three Israeli hostages were “mistakenly” killed by soldiers.

Mr Netanyahu said the killings were “heartbreaking” but “military pressure is necessary” to bring the other captives home.

“It broke my heart. It broke the whole nation's heart,” he said.

The chief of Israel’s general staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, has taken responsibility for the accidental killing of hostages in Gaza.

“The IDF, and I as its commander, are responsible for what happened, and we will do everything to prevent such incidents from recurring,” he said.

Two killed in Catholic church

Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli snipers reportedly killed two civilians in a church on Saturday, according to the office of the Latin Patriarchate Catholic Church in Palestine.

“A sniper of the IDF murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where the majority of Christian families has taken refuge since the start of the war,” the Latin Patriarchate said.

“They were shot in cold blood inside the premises of the parish, where there were no belligerents.”

Seven others were wounded in the compound, it added.

The Holy Family Church is the only Catholic church in Gaza, and is located in Gaza city.

Since the outbreak of the war, Pope Francis has been calling the church frequently to check on the hundreds of displaced people who are sheltering there.

The Latin Patriarchate is the representative of Catholics in Israel and Palestine.

Kamal Adwan hospital

Palestinian Health Minister Dr Mai Al Kaila has called for an “urgent probe” as reports emerged that the Israeli army had buried wounded patients alive in the yard of Kamal Adwan Hospital, north of Gaza.

Israeli soldiers raided the hospital this week.

Munir Al Barsh, the director general of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, said that “the Israeli forces deliberately took wounded patients out of the Kamal Adwan hospital into the open air in the cold weather. They attacked medical staff”.

“The Israeli occupation committed a humanitarian catastrophe. They turned the Kamal Adwan hospital into a military barracks, and humiliated the medical staff and the wounded.”

Witnesses said that Israeli vehicles “carried out extensive bulldozing operations in the hospital's garden and car park”.

Tanks also shelled the hospital buildings, they said.

The Israeli military claimed the hospital was being used as a Hamas “command and control centre” and that soldiers had detained about 80 fighters before leaving the site on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Gazan authorities said about 70 medical staff were detained by Israel in the raid.

Mr Al Barsh said that “12 children are still inside the incubators at the hospital without water and food, after the Israeli army prevented their evacuation”.

He said that the Israeli forces attacked ambulances at the hospital and its surrounding area.

Witnesses claimed that the Israeli army bulldozed some of the displaced peoples' tents while people were inside.

Only 11 of Gaza's 36 hospitals remain functional, the UN humanitarian affairs agency said this week. Aid relief continues to move into the enclave while heavy bombardment continues.

The World Health Organisation said it participated in a joint UN mission to deliver health supplies and assess the situation at the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza on Saturday.

The team delivered medicines and surgical supplies, orthopaedic surgery equipment, and anaesthesia materials and drugs to the hospital which was “currently minimally functional,” the WHO said.

Updated: December 17, 2023, 12:00 PM