Heavy strikes have destroyed buildings in the northern Gaza Strip – Copyright NARGES MOHAMMADI FOUNDATION/AFP/File –
Adel Zaanoun with Rosie Scammell in Jerusalem
Palestinians said Friday a deadly strike hit Gaza’s largest hospital compound as heavy fighting between Hamas and Israel has sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing their homes.
Gaza’s Hamas government, which reported a toll of 13, and the director of the Al-Shifa hospital, blamed Israeli troops for the strike at the facility sheltering people trying to flee the fighting. Israel did not immediately comment.
Al-Shifa hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya reported two people were killed and 10 wounded in a strike that he said hit the compound’s maternity ward.
A Hamas government statement said: “Thirteen martyrs and dozens wounded in an Israeli strike on Al-Shifa compound today” in central Gaza City, giving a toll AFP was not immediately able to independently verify.
On Thursday Israel had reported heavy fighting near the hospital, saying it had killed dozens of militants and destroyed tunnels that are key to Hamas’s capacity to fight.
The Israeli army has repeatedly accused Hamas of using hospitals, particularly Al-Shifa, to coordinate their attacks against the army and also as hideouts for its commanders. Hamas authorities deny the accusations.
Israel launched an offensive in Gaza after Hamas fighters poured across the militarised border on October 7, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostages.
Vowing to destroy the militants, Israel retaliated with bombardment and a ground campaign that the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,800 people, mostly civilians and many of them children.
Abu Mohammad, 32, had taken refuge in the hospital along with 15 relatives after the bombardments of his neighbourhood in the northeast part of Gaza City.
– ‘No safe place’ –
“There is no safe place left. The army hit Al-Shifa. I don’t know what to do,” he said. “There is shooting… at the hospital. We are afraid to go out.”
Witnesses said tanks had surrounded some other hospitals in Gaza City as fierce fighting continued, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee to the south of the territory over the past few weeks.
AFPTV footage showed a fireball and smoke rising over the city at dawn. Early Friday sounds of apparent gunfire and explosions could be heard.
The heavy fighting in the densely populated coastal territory, which is effectively sealed off, has prompted repeated calls for a ceasefire to protect civilian lives.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected halting the fighting, telling Fox News Thursday that a “ceasefire with Hamas means surrender to Hamas, surrender to terror.”
He also looked ahead to the war’s end, saying Israel does not “seek to govern Gaza.”
“We don’t seek to occupy it, but we seek to give it and us a better future,” he told Fox.
Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of devastated northern Gaza in recent days, with men, women and children clutching meagre possessions as they emerge from the devastated warzone in a river of humanity.
They have fled close-quarter fighting, with Hamas militants using rocket-propelled grenades against Israeli troops backed by armoured vehicles and heavy airstrikes.
The UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said 70,000 people had travelled south on the route since November 4, most of them walking.
Almost 1.6 million people have been internally displaced since October 7, it added, more than half the area’s population.
But the UN estimates hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in the fiercest battle zones in the north.
– Hostages –
Charities in Gaza’s south, where Palestinians have fled from the heavy fighting to the north, are trying to help by preparing meals for as many people as possible.
“As you can see large number of people come here and we can’t feed all of them, children, elderly, women. They come here to have food,” said Ibrahim Shallouf, a Palestinian volunteer.
Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals including Al-Shifa to hide its military operations. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged bombardments.
Complicating Israel’s military push is the fate of the hostages abducted on October 7.
CIA director Bill Burns and David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, were in Doha for talks on pauses that would include hostage releases and more aid for Gaza, an official told AFP.
Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad released a video Thursday claiming to show two hostages — a woman in her 70s and a 13-year-old boy — which, if verified, would suggest not all captives are held by Hamas.
Israel’s military called the video “psychological terrorism”.
Four hostages have been freed so far, and the desperate relatives of those still held have piled pressure on Israeli and US authorities to secure the release of their loved ones.
“We don’t sleep well. We don’t eat well,” Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer is being held hostage, told AFP in an interview.
Inside Gaza, the intense combat and effective blockade of the densely populated territory have led to increasingly dire conditions.
– Regional tensions –
Donors at an aid conference in Paris have pledged around $1.1 billion, but access to Gaza remains very limited, with around 100 trucks a day able to enter, far below the pre-war average.
“In our most conservative scenario, this conflict is likely to set back development (in the Palestinian territories) by well over a decade,” UNDP administrator Achim Steiner told AFP.
Israeli officials, however, insist there is “no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.
Violence has surged in the occupied West Bank since the conflict erupted, with at least 14 Palestinians killed on Thursday alone, according to the Ramallah-based health ministry.
The conflict has also stoked regional tensions, with cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels saying they launched “ballistic missiles” at southern Israel.
A drone hit a school in southern Israel’s Eilat on Thursday and Israeli air defences later intercepted a missile over the Red Sea, the military said.
On Friday, the military said it struck the source of the drone, in Syrian territory.
It did not identify the organisation behind the drone, but said it “holds the Syrian regime fully responsible for every terror activity emanating from its territory.”
Palestinians say deadly strike hit Gaza hospital
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