Hospitals in Gaza must not be attacked, says top ICRC official

Medical facilities have been hit by strikes and are being surrounded by Israeli forces as battle for northern Gaza intensifies

Palestinians check the damage after a convoy of ambulances was hit at the entrance of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city. Reuters
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Hospitals in the Gaza Strip must not be treated as targets, a top official from the International Committee of the Red Cross warned, as Israel's military offensive intensified on Friday.

“All measures must be taken to spare the hospitals, they should still exist tomorrow, after tomorrow and as long as the conflict continues. This is essential,” Christian Cardon, head of protection at ICRC, told The National.

“When it comes to hospitals, obviously, there are very clear obligations, they should be spared and they cannot be used for military activities.”

Israeli tanks have been seen outside medical centres in northern Gaza including Al Rantisi Hospital for Children, Al Nasr Children's Hospital and the Government Eye Hospital, according to local medical officials.

Several other hospitals were hit by air strikes overnight. A missile killed 13 people when it hit the courtyard of Al Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, which is believed to be sheltering about 60,000, according to Hamas.

Mr Cardon said that hospitals cannot evacuate thousands of patients and displaced people when there are no safe places for them to go.

“We are extremely worried as guardians of the law of war and we keep on repeating this to both Hamas and Israeli authorities,” Mr Cardon said.

Mr Cardon said this must be applied to doctors, ambulances and health workers as well as civilians.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qidra said Israel had bombed Al Shifa Hospital buildings five times. Tanks have been seen outside of hospitals in northern Gaza amid fierce fighting with Hamas.

The Palestinian Red Cross said late on Friday that Israeli forces were shooting at Al Quds Hospital and that there had been violent clashes, with one person killed and 28 wounded, most of them children.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals as bases and using people inside them as human shields, which the group denies.

All sides to the conflict must abide by humanitarian laws, Mr Cardon said.

“We also need to make sure that hospitals are being protected and that the population who decided not to move sometimes for very good reason can still be spared and protected,” he said.

Humanitarian nightmare

Mr Cardon described the situation inside Gaza as a “humanitarian nightmare”.

The majority of hospitals in Gaza – 18 out of 35 – have stopped functioning, reported the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, which receives its figures from the Hamas-controlled territory.

Little humanitarian aid has entered the enclave since Israel's war in Gaza started after the October 7 Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 people.

“We are extremely pessimistic, nothing has moved, there were a few developments when it comes to some entry of humanitarian aid, only few trucks,” he said.

“This is nothing, it is certainly not enough compared to the needs we see. So it's a terrible situation.”

In recent days, Israel has stepped up its ground offensive in northern Gaza and increased its aerial bombardment.

Mr Cardon said the ICRC had been clear from the start of the war that if no aid is able to enter the Gaza Strip then a humanitarian disaster would unfold.

“Believe me, the ICRC, [with its] 160 years experience in war situations, doesn't necessarily say that every day,” he said.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 6:00 PM