Israel raids Gaza’s largest hospital


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Israel has raided Gaza’s largest hospital, triggering gun battles around the medical complex where thousands of people have taken refuge as Israeli forces seek to prevent Hamas fighters regrouping in the besieged strip’s north.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was conducting a “precise operation in the area of the Shifa hospital” on Monday to thwart Hamas activity in the compound.

Gaza’s health ministry accused Israeli forces of “committing another crime against health institutions”, saying they had trapped people inside the surgery and emergency units of one of the hospital’s buildings and caused “deaths and injuries”.

“It’s impossible to rescue anyone due to the intensity of the fire and targeting of anyone approaching the windows,” the ministry said, adding that about 30,000 people, including wounded and displaced people, were “besieged” inside the compound.

Israel previously raided al-Shifa in Gaza City in November, forcing thousands of people who had sought sanctuary at the hospital to flee. That raid drew widespread condemnation from aid agencies as Israel’s air, land and sea offensive pushed Gaza’s health system towards a state of collapse.

Israel has alleged that the al-Shifa compound sits on top of a dense network of underground tunnels housing Hamas command centres. The hospital was one of the main focuses of Israeli forces’ ferocious offensive in northern Gaza after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which killed about 1,200 people, triggered the war.

Hamas has denied using the hospital for military purposes. Israeli troops blew up a large tunnel complex before withdrawing from the compound in late November. The hospital suffered damage but was able to partially function.

Israeli forces have largely pulled out of Gaza’s north as they have focused their offensive on the strip’s south.

UN aid agencies and humanitarian groups last month said Gaza’s health system “continues to be systematically degraded, with catastrophic consequences” and only 12 out of 36 hospitals in the strip partially functioning. The groups said in a joint statement there had been more than 370 attacks on healthcare in Gaza since October 7.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas in Gaza has killed almost 32,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials, displaced more than 85 per cent of the 2.3mn population and wrought devastation across the strip.

The humanitarian crisis has become particularly acute in northern Gaza which has received minimal aid despite mounting warnings about the risk of famine and outbreak of disease. Civil order has largely broken down in the north, where about 300,000 people remain.

As Israel’s offensive has devastated the strip, tens of thousands of people have taken sanctuary in hospital compounds.

The IDF said its troops had been instructed on the “importance of operating cautiously” during the raid on al-Shifa, “as well as on the measures to be taken to avoid harm to the patients, civilians, medical staff and medical equipment”.

The raid comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces increasing international pressure to halt the offensive and allow more aid into the strip.

On Sunday, Netanyahu hit back at criticism from the US and other western allies, accusing them of seeking to orchestrate elections that would “paralyse” the country and lead to its defeat in the war against Hamas.

He vowed that Israel would press ahead with plans to expand its offensive into Rafah, the southern city to which more than 1mn displaced people have fled, despite warnings from western leaders.

Israel has said that any operation into Rafah would first require evacuating the masses of civilians sheltering in the area, as demanded by US President Joe Biden.

The Israeli military last week said it was in discussions with international aid groups about creating “humanitarian enclaves” — likely in central Gaza — to house the displaced. But aid agencies warn that there is nowhere safe for people to go in the strip.

The US, Qatar and Egypt hope to halt the war by negotiating a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of the more than 100 Israeli captives held in Gaza. But mediators have struggled to narrow the wide gaps between the warring parties.

A delegation from Israel is expected to travel to Doha on Monday for talks after Hamas late last week issued its response to a possible framework agreement that would see at least a six-week pause in the fighting as well as the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

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