Israel arrests Al Shifa director as Gaza Health Ministry to cease co-ordination with UN

Health officials calls on UN and WHO to push for release of head of medical complex where civilians are sheltering from bombardment

Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city, and several other medical personnel have been arrested by Israeli forces. AFP
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Gaza's Health Ministry has said it will stop co-ordinating with the World Health Organisation in evacuating patients and medical staff from hospitals, following the arrest of the director of Al Shifa Hospital, the largest in the besieged enclave.

“We condemn the arrest of Muhammad Abu Salmiya and a number of medical personnel held by the occupation forces. He left the complex with the UN and WHO following evacuation orders from the occupation with dozens of patients and health workers,” Gaza's Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra told The National.

“We are calling all sides to take responsibility to release the doctor and those with him. This is a crime against humanity."

The doctor was arrested as part of a UN convoy evacuating patients from Al Shifa, Mr Al Qudra said.

“The army stopped the convoy at a checkpoint separating the northern and southern Gaza Strip for seven hours and the soldiers dealt with extreme violence with the medical staff, the wounded, the sick and those accompanying them.”

"The matter ended with the arrest of Mr Salmiya."

He later confirmed the ministry will cease work with WHO in evacuating staff and patients from hospitals, which have been increasingly targeted by Israeli forces in recent days, and said the UN and Israel bear responsibility for his arrest.

More than 400 people were evacuated from the Indonesian Hospital on Wednesday night, officials have said. The complex continues to be surrounded by Israeli forces.

The military has said the hospital, which doctors say has had no food, water or electricity for almost two weeks, is home to "militant activity" and threatened to storm it on Thursday morning.

Mr Al Qudra also called the arrest a “terrorist move” against Gaza’s health care and workers “who have been working under extreme and difficult circumstances for the last 47 days.”

Al Shifa Hospital has become a flashpoint in Israel’s war against Hamas, which began when gunmen from the militant group crossed the border into Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 240 hostage.

Israeli officials have told media outlets that the hospital director was arrested by military intelligence along with several doctors.

An unnamed military official told Haaretz that Mr Abu Salmiya was arrested while heading to southern Gaza through the “humanitarian corridor”

The Israeli army has forced patients and displaced Palestinians seeking shelter in and around the hospital to evacuate so they can continue inspecting the building for possible Hamas infrastructure.

Israeli reporters have filmed what they say are Hamas tunnels under the complex, the presence of which Hamas, and Al Shifa officials, have strongly denied.

Last week, Israeli soldiers stormed the hospitalafter encircling it and bombing adjacent areas, killing scores of people, as about 1,500 people, 600 patients and about 700 staff sheltered inside.

The hospital has been providing medical care for thousands who are injured.

Hospitals in line of fire

Israel accuses Hamas of using the medical centre as a shield for its operations and claims to have found a tunnel complex under the structure. There are reports of continuing fighting near the hospital, although the Israeli army has said the area is under their control.

Fighting also continues around other health facilities in the beleaguered enclave.

Elsewhere, in the east of Khan Younis, at least 14 people were killed and 13 injured in air strikes on Nuseirat refugee camp, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, which said Wednesday was the deadliest night since the beginning of the war in early October.

More than 14,500 people have been killed in Israeli air strikes so far, according to the Health Ministry.

"Dozens" were reported killed in several strikes across the north, including in Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia, while Wafa reported Israeli forces shooting at "anyone who moved" in densely populated residential areas of Gaza city.

Scores were also killed in Israeli bombardments on Sheikh Radwan, while an "entire residential square" was bombed in Beit Lahia.

Photojournalist Muhammad Ayash and his family were killed after his home was bombed in Nuseirat camp, the outlet added, while the headquarters of a charity was also bombed, killing an internally displaced person sheltering in a building behind the Kuwaiti Hospital.

Updated: November 24, 2023, 7:35 AM