'Houses they hadn't destroyed, they burned': Palestinians tell of Israel's Al Shifa raid

Israeli forces accused of demolishing homes around hospital and forcing men to strip and leave their families

Smoke rises from an Israeli strike near Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city. AFP
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The Israeli army has forced families apart and bulldozed homes during its raids around Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza city, Palestinians who live in the area told The National.

Israeli forces stormed Al Shifa Medical Complex on March 18 and have remained in the hospital since, as the army conducts operations in and around there.

The military has claimed it has killed more than 170 “terrorists” and arrested hundreds more, while “avoiding harm to civilians, patients, medical teams and medical equipment”.

But Palestinians who live around Al Shifa tell a different story, while authorities in Gaza say 400 civilians have been killed in 13 days of raids.

Mahmoud Khalifa had been staying at his daughter's house near the hospital, after fleeing there with his son when Israeli forces killed his wife and other daughter in another part of Gaza city.

However, he decided to leave his daughter's home as soon as he saw Israeli troops in the area.

“I wanted to save the only son and daughter I have remaining. So, I decided to leave. It was not an easy decision. But I have no other choice. They destroyed everything,” Mr Khalifa told The National.

“The houses they hadn't destroyed, they burned.”

After fleeing, he had no food or water for “several days”, Mr Khalifa said.

“I wanted to stay in Gaza city, but there is nothing left in Gaza now.”

He said he left after seeing the “arrests and humiliation” that other Palestinians had experienced in other Israeli operations.

“I decided to leave the area before they reached us.”

Mr Khalifa is now living in the city of Deir Al Balah, in central Gaza.

Families separated

Safa Hassouna was forced to leave her family home near Al Shifa Hospital when Israeli forces “broke in and forced them to leave”.

Her fears had begun when Israeli forces started launching repeated raids on Al Shifa almost two weeks ago.

Ms Hassouna had decided to stay at home, thinking it would be safer inside, away from the shelling. But a day after the raids began, Israeli forces came there too.

“They bombed the door and forced us out,” she said.

Ms Hassouna said they took her husband and two sons, and asked her to head south with her daughter.

But first, she said, the Israelis inflicted humiliation on the family.

“They forced my husband and my sons to take off their clothes. They took them, and me and my daughter left,” she said.

Ms Hassouna said her husband and one son have since been released, but she still has no information about where her eldest child is. The last time she saw him, as he was escorted away, he was forced to walk in front of an Israeli tank, apparently as a human shield.

“I don’t know anything about him and I am worried,” Ms Hassouna told The National from southern Gaza, where she is now staying.

“We are experiencing all the sorrow and sadness. Enough is enough.”

Updated: March 31, 2024, 12:00 PM