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Displaced Palestinians trapped inside Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city are being detained by the Israeli army and taken to an unknown area, a health worker told The National on Wednesday.
"They are blindfolded, have been stripped of their clothes, taken to an unknown area," said a manager at the emergency department of Al Shifa, who did not want to be named for security purposes.
Israel early on Wednesday said it was carrying out a “precise” military operation at Gaza's largest hospital, where thousands of civilians have sought refuge.
Doctors at the hospital have told The National in recent days that Al Shifa is under total siege, with relentless bombardment and shooting in the area. They said about 170 bodies around the complex lie unburied.
"Al Shifa has been besieged for five days and those inside are civilians," said the manager. "There are no armed people in the complex. We've not heard any clashes, but only gunfire from the occupation army."
The health worker said doctors were struggling to save wounded civilians as medical supplies and water as well electricity have run out.
Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals as cover for its fighters. It claims the group has set up its main command centre in and beneath Al Shifa.
“We are carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Al Shifa Hospital,” the Israeli army said.
Israel's military said the army “conveyed to the relevant authorities in Gaza once again that all military activities within the hospital must cease within 12 hours. Unfortunately, it did not.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is deeply concerned for the welfare of civilians inside the hospital.
“Hospitals and civilians are protected under international humanitarian law,” Hisham Mhanna, the ICRC's representative in Gaza, told The National.
“We are in contact with authorities, and we are extremely worried about the safety and welfare of patients, medical staff and other civilians.
“We continue to closely monitor,” Mr Mhanna said.
Hamas and Al Shifa Hospital staff deny these allegations. The Israeli army has yet to provide proof of its claims.
The scale of Israel's military operation was not clear, although local Arabic media said Israeli forces had entered the hospital's main buildings.
Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden warned that Israel must exercise caution in any military operation at the hospital, saying “it must be protected”.
Doctors inside the hospital said that patients, health workers and displaced people fear what will happen to them.
Tanks at front gate
Thousands of people are believed to be sheltering in and around the hospital, where conditions have rapidly deteriorated as fuel supplies run out, leading to a loss of power.
Doctors have been working by candlelight and wrapping premature babies in foil in efforts to keep them alive.
An official at the Gaza Health Ministry said tanks were at the front gate.
Ezzat Al Risheq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, said the move is an accomplishment of “juvenile politics and an open ploy”.
Mr Al Risheq said the hospital is a civilian facility housing medics, patients and displaced people, and not a military target.
“The push by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his army to paint this as an accomplishment or victory shows their shortcomings and the depth of defeat they have suffered,” Mr Al Risheq said in a video message.
For the past week, the Israelis have surrounded the facility as part of its ground offensive against Hamas, but had not previously entered.
'Grave violations' against children
On Wednesday, Unicef executive director Catherine Russell said she had visited the Gaza Strip to meet children, their families and Unicef staff.
She called for an immediate ceasefire and the safe release of all abducted and detained children. She also said humanitarian teams should be allowed safe and unimpeded access to those in need.
“The parties to the conflict are committing grave violations against children. These include killing, maiming, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals and the denial of humanitarian access – all of which Unicef condemns,” she said.
“Many children are missing and believed buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings and homes, the tragic result of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
“Meanwhile, newborn babies who require specialised care have died in one of Gaza’s hospitals as power and medical supplies run out, and violence continues with indiscriminate effect.”