Red Cross calls for hospitals in Gaza to be protected amid Al Shifa siege

Israeli army has shelled healthcare complex, with two hospitals in the south of the enclave also under attack

A screengrab from a video released by the Israeli military on March 25 shows an Israeli soldier outside Al Shifa Hospital, in Gaza city. Reuters
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Hospitals across Gaza have become battlegrounds and must be protected by the rules of war, an aid official told The National as the enclave's Al Shifa Hospital remained under Israeli siege.

Last week, the Israeli military began a raid on Al Shifa. Tanks shelled the medical complex, setting fire to buildings, the Gaza media office said. Homes in the surrounding area were bombed.

The Israeli army said on Thursday that Hamas fighters were firing on troops "from within and outside” the hospital's emergency ward. Other hospitals in Gaza, including Al Amal and Nasser, have also been attacked.

“This is deeply troubling. Hospitals should be safe for people who need medical help, for those who work there, and for those sheltering in them,” Jessica Moussan, media adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told The National.

“The rules of war clearly state that hospitals are protected and should not be attacked. Any violence towards medical facilities and personnel is unacceptable."

Gaza’s healthcare system has all but collapsed, but hospitals are still receiving patients "because they have nowhere else to go", she said.

An Israeli raid on Al Shifa last November sparked an international outcry. The hospital, the largest in Gaza, had been one of the few healthcare centres in the north of the enclave to remain in operation. It was also housing thousands of displaced civilians.

Unverified footage on social media showed its surgery unit blackened by flames and nearby apartments on fire or destroyed.

Hospitals in Gaza barely manage to provide basic care and have become shelters, Ms Moussan said. People are sleeping in staircases and corridors, she added.

Israel accuses Hamas of hiding fighters in medical centres and using civilians as shields, claims the militant group denies.

The Israeli army says it has killed about 200 militants in Al Shifa area since its operation began.

The UN reported "intensive exchanges of fire between the Israeli military and armed Palestinians" around Al Shifa on Thursday. It quoted the Gazan health authorities as saying the army had confined medical staff and patients to one building.

Israel said its troops evacuated civilians, patients and staff "to alternative medical facilities".

The Israeli military is also laying siege to the two main hospitals in Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis, Al Amal and Nasser.

The Gaza health authorities reported 62 Palestinians had been killed during the past 24 hours, increasing the death total from the war to 32,552. The conflict was sparked by an attack on Israel by Hamas that killed 1,200.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 4:57 PM