'Inhuman' conditions in besieged al-Shifa Hospital

'Inhuman' conditions in besieged al-Shifa Hospital

Men check the bodies of people killed in bombardment that hit a school housing displaced Palestinians, as they lie on the ground in the yard of al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Nov. 10, 2023. (Credit: AFP)

GAZA — Hundreds of people stranded in Gaza's biggest hospital were enduring "inhuman" conditions on Monday while heavy fighting raged around them, a doctor said as the Gaza Health Ministry reported a rising patient death toll.

UN agencies and doctors in the facility are warning that a lack of generator fuel is claiming lives, including infants. Witnesses reported intense air strikes, with tanks and armored vehicles just meters from the gate of the sprawling al-Shifa compound at the heart of Gaza City, now an urban war zone.

"The situation is very bad, it is inhuman," a unnamed surgeon with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the medical charity group, wrote on social media. "We don't have electricity. There's no water in the hospital."

He said that al-Shifa currently hosts 600 inpatients and 32 babies. In several statements, doctors at the hospital have reiterated they will not evacuate and abandon their patients.

Gaza's Deputy Health Minister Youssef Abu Rish said the death toll inside al-Shifa rose to 27 adult intensive care patients and seven babies since the weekend as the facility suffers fuel shortages.

Gaza has been reliant on generators for more than a month after Israel cut off power supplies following the Oct. 7 attack and the besieged territory's only power plant ran out of fuel.

A lack of fuel also hit the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA. The group's Gaza chief Thomas White said operations "will grind to a halt in the next 48 hours as no fuel is allowed to enter" the territory, and the agency's fuel supply runs dry.

The World Health Organization in the Palestinian territories said early Monday that at least 2,300 people -- patients, health workers and people fleeing fighting -- were inside the crippled al-Shifa facility.

Israel argues Hamas built their military headquarters under the al-Shifa hospital complex, thus justifying the siege. This claim has not been confirmed by any third party. Human Rights Watch released a statement saying they cannot corroborate it. Hamas has categorically denied it, saying that the hospital is under the authority of the Palestinian Health Ministry. Doctors and healthcare workers at the hospital have also stated many times that they have never seen any evidence of Hamas activities within the hospital compound. 

The Israeli army is pushing on with their campaign, bent on destroying the movement whose gunmen it says killed at least 1,200 people — a number Israel recently revised down from 1,400 — and took about 240 hostages in an unprecedented attack when they stormed across the militarized border from Gaza.

Israel said 44 of its troops have been killed in its Gaza ground operation.

But Israel is facing intense international pressure to minimize civilian suffering amid its massive air and ground operations that Hamas authorities say have killed 11,240 people, including 4,630 children.

Israel's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the nation has "two or three weeks until international pressure really steps up," as quoted by his spokesman.

Cohen added that Israel is working to "broaden the window of legitimacy, and the fighting will carry on for as long as necessary." 

Fear of regional conflict

The Israeli army on Monday reported more heavy fighting and again stressed its claim that Hamas was hiding in civilian infrastructure.

"IDF troops are continuing to conduct raids... targeting terrorist infrastructure located in central governmental institutions in the heart of the civilian population, including schools, universities, mosques and residences of terrorists," it said.

Teams of Israeli troops ran between jagged ruins in Gaza while air strikes shown in grainy military-released videos shattered buildings.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Hamas must first release the hostages before any ceasefire would be considered, but he told US media on Sunday that "there could be" a potential deal. 

Israelis are stunned by the Oct. 7 attack and worried for the fate of the captives, whose families plan to deliver a letter at the UN headquarters in Jerusalem seeking action.

The war in Gaza has also spurred concerns of a wider regional conflict.

At least eight pro-Iran fighters were killed in US strikes on eastern Syria, a war monitor said, in response to attacks on American forces.

It was the third time in less than three weeks that the US military has targeted locations in Syria, amid a spike in attacks on American forces in the Middle East linked to the Hamas-Israel war.

International concern

International attention has focused on the plight of Palestinians, and protests have been held worldwide in solidarity with the 2.4 million under bombardment and near-total siege for more than five weeks.

About 980 trucks carrying humanitarian aid have been let into Gaza since October 21, according to the UN humanitarian agency.

Before the war, it was necessary for 500 trucks to enter every day in order to support the besieged population, it said.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on the European Union and the United Nations to "parachute aid" into Gaza.

Fuel is a crucial need, especially for hospital generators, but Israel has been concerned that any fuel deliveries could be diverted to Hamas militants.

The Israeli army claimed its ground soldiers hand-delivered 300 liters (80 gallons) of fuel near the hospital "for urgent medical purposes."

Al-Shifa director Abu Salmiya said he told Israeli authorities he needed far more -- at least 8,000 liters to run the main generators and "save hundreds of patients and wounded, but they refused."

AFP was unable to independently verify his account or Israel's claim that Hamas forbade the hospital from taking the fuel.

Hamas released a statement saying the 300 liters "belittles the sick and wounded" and would be enough for thirty-minutes of electricity.

Palestinians in Gaza's south have been forced to adapt to the lack of basic resources.

"People are using now [traditional] ovens in order to cook. What else can they do?" said a woman, who asked not to be named, making the ovens in southern Khan Yunis.

Almost 1.6 million people — about two-thirds of Gaza's population — have been internally displaced since Oct. 7, according to UNRWA.

Some people were allowed to leave the besieged territory via the Egypt-controlled Rafah crossing and on Monday more than 550 foreign-passport holders and nine wounded Palestinians and companions crossed. Israel has bombed Rafah crossing at least five times since the war started.

Israel's military said it would observe a "self-evacuation corridor" Monday, allowing people to move from al-Shifa southward, but admitted the area was still the scene of "intense battles."

The area of fighting "currently includes the area surrounding the al-Shifa hospital but not the hospital itself," an Israeli army spokesperson told AFP. Meanwhile, according to testaments from doctors and witnesses within the besieged hospital, the Israeli army is firing at anyone moving outside of the compound.

GAZA — Hundreds of people stranded in Gaza's biggest hospital were enduring "inhuman" conditions on Monday while heavy fighting raged around them, a doctor said as the Gaza Health Ministry reported a rising patient death toll.

UN agencies and doctors in the facility are warning that a lack of generator fuel is claiming lives, including infants....