Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital a 'death zone', WHO says urging evacuation

Gaza's largest hospital has become a "death zone," the World Health Organization said on Sunday, announcing plans to evacuate the facility.
Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital a 'death zone', WHO says urging evacuation

Tents and shelters used by displaced Palestinians stand at the yard of Al Shifa hospital during the Israeli ground operation around the hospital in Gaza City on November 12, 2023.

Gaza's largest hospital has become a "death zone," the World Health Organization said on Sunday, announcing plans to evacuate the facility, as Israel's army said it was expanding operations to destroy Hamas.

The assessment came after a visit by WHO and other UN officials to the hospital, which Israeli troops raided earlier this week.

Elsewhere, a Hamas health official said more than 80 people were killed on Saturday in twin strikes on a northern Gaza refugee camp, including on a UN school sheltering displaced people.

Social media videos verified by AFP showed bodies covered in blood and dust on the floor of a building where mattresses had been wedged under school tables, in Jabalia, the Palestinian territory's biggest refugee camp.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, described "horrifying images" from the incident, while Egypt called the bombing a "war crime" and "a deliberate insult to the United Nations."

A separate strike on Saturday on another building in Jabalia camp killed 32 people from the same family, 19 of them children, Hamas health authorities said.

Without mentioning the strikes, the Israeli army said "an incident in the Jabalia region" was under review.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw about 240 people taken hostage.

The army's relentless air and ground campaign has since killed 12,300 people, more than 5,000 of them children, according to the Hamas government which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

The UN says some 1.6 million people have been displaced inside the Gaza Strip by six weeks of fighting, and Israel said on Saturday its military was now "expanding its operational activities in additional neighborhoods in the area of the Gaza Strip."

'Extreme suffering'

Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, has been a key focus in recent days, with Israeli forces alleging Hamas uses it as a command center — a claim denied by the group and medical staff.

On Sunday, the WHO said a UN assessment team reached the hospital and found a "death zone," with a mass grave at the entrance and nearly 300 patients left inside with 25 health workers.

"WHO and partners are urgently developing plans for the immediate evacuation of the remaining patients, staff and their families," the body said, warning however that nearby facilities were already overstretched.

It urged an immediate ceasefire given the "extreme suffering of the people of Gaza."

On Saturday, hundreds of people fled the hospital on foot on orders from the Israeli army, according to the facility's director.

Columns of sick and injured — some of them amputees — were seen making their way toward the seafront along with displaced people, doctors, and nurses, as loud explosions were heard around the complex.

At least 15 bodies, some in advanced stages of decomposition, could be seen along the route, lined with heavily damaged shops and overturned vehicles, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

Israeli forces denied ordering the evacuation of the hospital, saying it had "acceded to the request of the director" to allow more civilians to leave.

The WHO said 29 patients at the hospital with serious spinal injuries cannot move without medical assistance, and others have infected wounds due to lack of antibiotics.

There are also 32 babies in "extremely critical condition," WHO said.

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