Gaza’s hospitals have become unsafe shelters for tens of thousands, Red Crescent says

Palestinian humanitarian organisation warns its logo has become 'meaningless' to Israel amid strikes on enclave

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Gaza’s hospitals have turned into unsafe, ill-equipped shelters housing thousands of people, mostly women and children, as Israeli air strikes close in on the surrounding roads.

More than 8,300 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded in the enclave in the three weeks since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said. Two thirds of the dead are women and children.

The enclave was hit with non-stop overnight shelling, witnesses told The National.

At night, thousands gather inside hospitals as air strikes reduce surrounding buildings and roads to rubble.

About 14,000 civilians have sought shelter at Al Aqsa Hospital, which is run by the Palestinian Red Crescent, in recent days as doctors treat dozens of injured and recovering patients, with 10 in intensive care units and at least seven babies in incubators.

Some Gazans have sheltered at Al Quds and Al Shifa hospitals, despite warnings from Israel to evacuate.

“The Red Crescent’s logo has become a meaningless symbol [to Israel],” the PRC's spokesman in Gaza, Mohammad Abu Sabbah, told The National from the hospital, which has received evacuation warnings from the Israeli army.

Paramedics have been unable to carry out their work as ambulances are being struck, most recently at dawn on Monday.

To remove the babies from incubators would mean “certain death”, Mr Abu Sabbah said.

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees told a UN emergency meeting on Monday that “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire has become a matter of life and death for millions”.

UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini accused Israel of being responsible for the “collective punishment” of Palestinians and the forced displacement of civilians.

He said a further breakdown of civil order after the looting of the agency’s warehouses by Palestinians searching for food and other aid would “make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the largest UN agency in Gaza to continue operating”.

With no ceasefire in sight, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Palestinians need aid more than a halt in hostilities, calling for “realism” in dealing with the continuing war on Gaza.

He was speaking during a visit to the UAE, where he met Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Monday.

'1948 will not happen again'

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has drafted a wartime proposal to transfer the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million people to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, drawing condemnation from Palestinians and stoking tension with Cairo.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office played down the report compiled by his Intelligence Ministry and called it a “concept paper”.

However, that only deepened Egyptian fears that Israel wants to push Gazans into Egypt.

For Palestinians, the proposal has revived memories of the Nakba – the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of people who fled or were forced from their homes during the fighting surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.

“We are against transfer to any place, in any form, and we consider it a red line that we will not allow to be crossed,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's spokesman, said of the report.

“What happened in 1948 will not be allowed to happen again.”

He said a mass displacement would be “tantamount to declaring a new war”.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 7:43 AM