Israel withdraws from Al Shifa hospital complex after killing 200 and arresting 1,400

Residents and medical staff describe scenes of death and destruction following two-week raid

Israel ends raid on Al Shifa leaving hospital in ruins

Israel ends raid on Al Shifa leaving hospital in ruins
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Israeli forces withdrew from Al Shifa Medical Complex on Monday, leaving behind a trail of destruction and piles of decomposing bodies after besieging Gaza's largest hospital for two weeks.

“The smell in Al Shifa Hospital and around it within 800 metres is intolerable due to the smell of corpses. Everywhere there are corpses, in the street, inside houses and inside the sand dunes,” said Gaza's civilian defence spokesman Mahmoud Bassal.

Palestinians who returned to the site reported seeing “hundreds” of bodies strewn across the hospital and surrounding area, with footage showing the remains of burnt corpses.

The Israeli army confirmed it had withdrawn from Al Shifa on Monday, following a two-week siege in which it said it had killed 200 “militants.” Israeli tanks and soldiers were seen withdrawing from the hospital earlier that day.

Another 1,400 people had been arrested, 900 of whom had been taken for questioning, the army said.

Medical staff at the hospital and residents in the area described horrifying scenes to The National in the aftermath of the raid, with reports of piles of decomposing bodies and the destruction of the areas around the hospital.

“We found people killed while they were handcuffed, and after the Israelis released them, the snipers shot them,” said Mr Bassal.

“Israeli forces arrested displaced people and medical crews from the hospital. We didn't find a number of doctors, so they could be killed or arrested."

Mr Bassal told The National that the search for dead bodies was still continuing, and that he expected the death toll to rise.

About 7,000 people had been inside the hospital before Israeli forces surrounded the area, he said. The majority of these patients had left the hospital, with 107 remaining in the final days of the siege, according to Wafa.

Hussain Mohassin, the director of Ambulance and Emergency at Al Shifa Hospital, said that the facility had been damaged extensively and was out of service. Medical staff were working to evacuate the remaining patients to Al Ahli Hospital east of Gaza city, where they will be transferred to Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza for treatment, he said.

“We found a number of Palestinians corpses that are buried inside the hospital yard, and the situation inside the hospital is horrible,” Mr Mohassin told The National.

Palestinian media reports described “hundreds” of bodies found at the hospital and its vicinity following the Israeli army's withdrawal, with the entire complex damaged and a makeshift graveyard inside the hospital demolished.

Bodies were found strewn across the site and in the nearby Omar Al Mukhtar, Izz Al Din Al Qassam and Abu Hasira streets, among others. Wafa reported that some of the bodies were found handcuffed.

Civilians who were trapped in the siege also described seeing dozens of dead bodies amid the destruction of the area around the hospital.

Um Waleed, a civilian who had sought shelter in Al Shifa Hospital with her five children, said she was trapped in a building next to it by Israeli troops.

“I was inside the building and couldn’t leave it due to the continuous shelling around us, I heard the sound of bombing and destroying the building around us,” Um Waleed, 35, told The National.

She said her family ran out of water and food during the siege and so her 12-year-old son was forced to go without food or drink despite being too young to fast during Ramadan.

“We saw death every minute. I was afraid that they would break into our place and arrest us or to bomb the building, thank God we survived,” she said.

Dozens of bodies, some decomposing, lined the streets around the hospital, said Maher Adwan, a young man who went down to the site after the siege had ended.

“We faced great difficulty passing through the street due to heaps of ash, debris and bodies on the roads. To be honest, the scene of Al Shifa was shocking and heartbreaking,” he said.

Mr Adwan, who was from Beit Lahia in northern Gaza but had been displaced to Gaza city during the war, said dozens of buildings, towers and shops were burnt and destroyed in the area around Al Shifa.

“This grand medical institution that used to serve all the people in the Gaza Strip, receiving thousands of patients, had turned into rubble and ash, with layers of sand beneath with bodies of patients and displaced individuals,” he said.

Hospitals under attack

The raid on Al Shifa was one of many Israeli operations in and around hospitals in Gaza.

It was the second time Israeli forces had raided Al Shifa, after besieging it for a week in November.

The army claims Hamas uses hospitals as command centres – accusations denied by medical authorities and the Palestinian group.

Israel's attack on medical centres has left the enclave without any functioning hospitals, as medical authorities struggle to treat the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been wounded in the war.

Gaza's Health Ministry issued a plea on Monday for international support for Nasser Hospital, which was forced out of service following a recent Israeli raid.

Israeli forces have also recently raided Al Amal Hospital in Khan Younis.

The recent raid has taken Al Shifa Hospital out of action, but about 100 patients remain there in “horrific and inhumane” conditions, the Gaza Ministry of Health warned.

“The situation as reported by many of the staff is horrific and inhumane; no fresh air no ventilation, cleaning conditions, no living water, no potable water,” it said.

Some patients had maggot-infested wounds as a result of severe medical shortages, it added, and doctors have resorted to using plastic bags as medical gloves.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, shared an image of the destruction at Al Shifa in a post on X on Monday, as he called for hospitals in Gaza to be protected.

The previous day, another post from Dr Tedros detailed the dire conditions facing patients and civilians at Al Shifa.

He followed up with a post that simply read: "Lost for words."

Updated: April 02, 2024, 6:13 AM