Al-Shifa hospital ‘nearly a cemetery’ as humanitarian crisis deepens in Gaza

Al-Shifa hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza, is “nearly a cemetery”, the World Health Organization has warned, as Israel’s war against Hamas deepens a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave.

Hospitals in northern Gaza have gradually been forced to stop operating over the past two weeks as Israeli forces advance deep into the enclave and severely restrict supplies of fuel, water and food to the besieged territory.

According to the UN’s humanitarian arm, OCHA, all but one of the hospitals in the north of Gaza had stopped functioning by Monday night, because of a lack of “power, medical consumables, oxygen, food and water” as well as the Israeli bombardment and gun battles around them.

“Around [al-Shifa] there are dead bodies which cannot be taken care of or be buried or taken away to any sort of morgue,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said on Monday. “The hospital is not working at all any more as it should. It’s nearly a cemetery.”

OCHA said 32 patients — including three premature babies — had died at al-Shifa since Saturday as a result of the loss of power and “dire conditions” at the hospital. Mohamed Abu Silmeyeh, director of the hospital, warned on Saturday that medics were having to wrap babies in cellophane to keep them alive after incubators stopped working due to the lack of power.

Israel claims that al-Shifa is a significant site for Hamas’s operations because it sits on top of the armed group’s underground infrastructure that the Israeli military intends to destroy. Doctors at the Gaza City hospital have denied the claim, and said that thousands of patients, medical personnel and civilians are sheltering at the hospital.

The desperate situation in Gaza’s hospitals has been a source of tension between Israel and its allies, with the US, France and other western nations increasingly pushing Israel to exercise restraint in operations near medical facilities.

US President Joe Biden said on Monday night that the US had spoken to Israel about the topic and that hospitals “must be protected”, adding. “My hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive action relative to hospitals.”

Israel bombarded Gaza and launched a ground invasion after Hamas militants from the coastal strip carried out the deadliest-ever attack on Israel last month, killing more than 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s assault had killed more than 11,000 people, including more than 4,500 children and more than 3,000 women, in Gaza as of Sunday night, according to health officials in the enclave.

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However, the Gaza health ministry said it was having “significant difficulties” in compiling the data due to communications blackouts in the territory and it estimated that a further 3,000 citizens were missing or under the rubble of buildings destroyed in the fighting.

The ministry on Monday described al-Shifa as being under a “complete siege”, saying there were more than 100 bodies that were beginning to decompose and there was “the smell of corpses” everywhere.

It said that 8,000 displaced people were sheltering at al-Shifa, but there was no food or fresh water.

Israel-Hamas war: 2-minute briefing

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