Gaza's Nasser Hospital turned into 'military site' in Israeli raid, health ministry says

All patients have been ordered to leave the facility that has been under Israeli siege for three weeks

Palestinian patients arrive in Rafah after being evacuated from Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis because of the Israeli ground operation. Reuters
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Israeli forces have turned the besieged Nasser Hospital complex into a “military site” after storming the facility and bulldozing mass graves and tents belonging to displaced civilians, Gaza's Ministry of Health said on Thursday.

“The Israeli military has asked everybody to go to the first and oldest building in the complex. They've asked them clear out the third and fourth floors of the new building, where the operating rooms are,” Medhat Abbas, the ministry's director general, told The National.

All patients at the hospital in the city of Khan Younis have been ordered to leave, including those in the intensive care unit, babies, and six people on respirators, the ministry's spokesman, Dr Ashraf Al Qudra, said in a statement.

Dr Al Qudra said oxygen tanks have been destroyed in the Israeli attacks on the hospital and its vicinity, causing leaks and a shortage of supply.

Israeli forces are forcing hospital authorities to “keep intensive care patients without medical staff, which puts their lives in extreme danger”, Dr Al Qudra added.

“The Israeli occupation has raided Nasser Hospital complex and turned it into a military site after destroying its southern fence and breaking through it,” he said.

Dr Al Qudra said the army targeted the ambulance headquarters and the tents of the displaced, and bulldozed the mass graves inside the complex.

On Thursday afternoon, Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari confirmed a “mission” was under way at Nasser Hospital to “find and return the bodies of hostages”.

The Israeli military had claimed it would provide safe passage for displaced people to leave the hospital, while patients and medical staff were ordered to remain at the facility.

But the Health Ministry said that at least 11 people at the hospital have been killed by Israeli forces over the past week, including three who were shot dead on Wednesday.

A patient in the orthopaedic unit was among those killed, while an emergency care doctor was injured in a drone strike on the hospital's third floor, according to the ministry.

At least 1,500 displaced Palestinians who were seeking shelter at the hospital remain in the compound, alongside 180 staff members, 299 of their family members, 273 immobile patients, and 327 others accompanying them, said the Health Ministry.

“Among the patients at Nasser medical complex are 18 patients in the intensive care unit, three infants in the nursery and 35 kidney dialysis patients,” added Dr Al Qudra.

Videos circulating online showed large crowds of people walking out of the hospital, while others in wheelchairs were also seen being forced to leave the facility.

Nasser Hospital is the largest hospital in southern Gaza and the latest medical centre to come under attack since the outbreak of war on October 7.

Gaza's fragile healthcare sector has been devastated, with almost all hospitals now out of service. Israeli forces have stormed several hospitals, including the enclave's largest, Al Shifa in Gaza city, based on claims that Hamas is using them as command centres.

The National's attempts to get in touch with medical staff inside the Nasser Hospital complex were unsuccessful amid communication blackouts from areas under attack by Israeli forces.

The health ministry has repeatedly warned of “extreme danger” to patients, staff and displaced Palestinians as Israel fired at the hospital and surrounding buildings, setting alight UN-run schools in the vicinity.

On Tuesday, Dr Al Qudra said that drainage pipes had been damaged in the Israeli attacks, causing sewage to seep into the facility's walls and flood the emergency department.

He called for a technical team to be deployed and allowed to move safely among the hospital's buildings.

Seven patients injured early on Thursday were already being treated for previous wounds, Dr Khaled Alser, one of the remaining surgeons at Nasser Hospital, told the Associated Press.

“The situation is escalating every hour and every minute,” he added.

With intense Israeli bombardment reported across Gaza, including on so-called safe zones, and a full-scale assault looming over the southern city of Rafah, Palestinians in Gaza say they have nowhere safe to go.

Many have fled to Rafah, where the UN has warned of “disastrous” consequences if Israel launches a full-scale offensive on a city hosting some 1.4 million people.

“People have been forced into an impossible situation,” Lisa Macheiner, of the aid group Doctors Without Borders which has staff in the hospital, told the Associated Press.

“Stay at Nasser Hospital against the Israeli military's orders and become a potential target, or exit the compound into an apocalyptic landscape where bombings and evacuation orders are a part of daily life,” she said.

Updated: February 17, 2024, 8:34 AM