Israel-Hamas war | Gaza’s embattled main hospital buries patients in ‘mass grave’

A witness said the stench of decomposing bodies was everywhere in the Gaza City facility as bombardment and gunfire echoed constantly in the area.

November 14, 2023 10:25 pm | Updated November 15, 2023 08:05 am IST - Palestinian Territories

People search through buildings, destroyed during Israeli air strikes in the southern Gaza Strip in Khan Yunis, Gaza. on November 13, 2023;

People search through buildings, destroyed during Israeli air strikes in the southern Gaza Strip in Khan Yunis, Gaza. on November 13, 2023; | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Gaza’s main hospital has been forced to bury scores of dead patients in a mass grave, its director said on November 14, while thousands of Palestinians were trapped inside by fierce combat.

Israeli forces were at the gates of the sprawling Al-Shifa hospital they say sits atop an underground Hamas command base, but the militants deny the charge while doctors say patients and people seeking shelter were stranded in horrific conditions.

Also read | Israel Hamas war Day 40 updates

“There are bodies littered in the hospital complex and there is no longer electricity at the morgues,” said Al-Shifa hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya, adding that 179 bodies had been interred so far.

“We were forced to bury them in a mass grave,” he said, adding that seven babies and 29 intensive care patients were among those who had died after fuel for the hospital’s generator ran out.

A witness said the stench of decomposing bodies was everywhere in the Gaza City facility as bombardment and gunfire echoed constantly in the area.

The United Nations estimates that at least 2,300 people — patients, staff and displaced civilians — are inside and may be unable to escape because of fierce fighting from the facility where supplies are nearly exhausted.

Israel says it is not targeting the hospital, but has vowed to destroy Hamas in response to the attacks of October 7, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and resulted in 240 hostages being taken to Gaza.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says Israel’s relentless assault has killed 11,240 people, also mostly civilians, including thousands of children.

Israel’s military says 47 of its troops have been killed in Gaza.

Al-Shifa’s fate has become a major focus of the more than five week war that has stirred international criticism of the suffering and death inflicted on civilians in the besieged territory.

Israel’s top diplomat acknowledged Monday that his nation has “two or three weeks until international pressure really steps up”.

Quoted by his spokesman, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that Israel is working to “broaden the window of legitimacy, and the fighting will carry on for as long as necessary”.

‘Completely soaked’

The situation in Gaza’s other hospitals is also dire, with the UN saying 22 of 36 are not functional due to lack of generator fuel, damage and combat.

“The 14 hospitals remaining open have barely enough supplies to sustain critical and lifesaving surgeries and provide inpatient care, including intensive care,” said the World Health Organization in the Palestinian Territories.

But the humanitarian crisis in the territory also includes the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled south at Israel’s urging to get away from the most intense fighting.

On Tuesday those in the south woke up to yet another scourge: rain, soaking their meagre belongings and threatening to bring waterborne diseases as it gathers in stagnating puddles.

“We are completely soaked, all of our clothes are soaked, our mattresses, our blankets too, even a dog could not live like this,” said Ayman al-Jueidi, who has set himself up in the courtyard of a UN school in Rafah at the southern extremity of the Gaza Strip.

But even escaping the fighting is dangerous and wounded Palestinians told AFP how they were hit by a strike on their way south.

“I walked around three to four kilometres (around two miles) while I was bleeding,” said Hasan Baker, whose head and left hand were bandaged. “There was no possibility for any ambulance to enter the area.

“We didn’t have any weapons,” he added. “We are civilians, we were moving from one place to another according to the instructions of the (Israeli) occupation.”

Hostage talks

Israeli leaders have so far insisted there will be no broader ceasefire until hostages are released, but Qatar is mediating talks on a possible deal to free captives.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, said Monday that Israel asked for the release of 100 hostages while the militants want 200 Palestinian children and 75 women freed from Israeli prisons.

“We informed the mediators we could release the hostages if we obtained five days of truce... and passage of aid to all of our people throughout the Gaza Strip, but the enemy is procrastinating,” Abu Obeida said in an audio statement.

Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Majed bin Mohammed Al-Ansari told a news conference in Doha that the “deteriorating” situation in Gaza was hampering mediation efforts.

He added: “We believe that there is no other chance for both sides other than for this mediation to take place.”

Relatives of hostages set out Tuesday on a five-day protest march to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to demand “the immediate release of all the hostages,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said.

As security officials and diplomats continued negotiations, Hamas’s military wing issued a video of captive Israeli soldier Noa Marciano.

The Israeli army on Tuesday confirmed she was dead.

Abu Obeida, the spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, claimed Marciano was killed in an Israeli strike. The Israeli army did not say how she died.

Fear of violence spreading

The Israeli army said it had captured Gaza’s parliament, the government building, the police headquarters and other government institutions run by Hamas in Gaza City, as its forces deepened their offensive in the Palestinian territory.

The army also cited a discarded baby bottle, makeshift toilet and bullet-scarred motorbike as evidence Hamas held hostages in the basement of Al-Rantisi children’s hospital in Gaza City.

AFP was not able to independently confirm the allegation, and Hamas has consistently denied using hospitals as hideouts as it battles Israeli troops.

The video narrated by army spokesman Daniel Hagari also shows neatly arranged assault rifles, grenades and what he said were “vests with explosives”.

The war in Gaza has also spurred violence on other fronts.

In the occupied West Bank, eight Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops, seven during an army raid on the northern city of Tulkarem and one near the southern city of Hebron, the Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday.

After repeated attacks on US forces in the Middle East, the United States launched air strikes that killed at least eight pro-Iran fighters in eastern Syria, a Britain-based monitoring group said.

On Monday, Israel used fighter jets to strike what it said were “operational command centres” belonging to Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah inside Lebanon.

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