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Last major hospital in south Gaza no longer functioning, UN says

It comes as Israel urged not to press on with assault into Rafah – where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering with nowhere else to go

Chris Stevenson
Monday 19 February 2024 02:33 GMT
A Palestinian man is treated in Nasser hospital in December before the army takeover
A Palestinian man is treated in Nasser hospital in December before the army takeover (Getty)

The last major hospital in southern Gaza has ceased to function, the UN has said, in the wake of a raid by Israeli forces on Thursday.

Medics inside Nasser hospital, in Khan Younis, have previously told The Independent about the intense fighting around the complex.

The latest blow to Gaza’s devastated healthcare sector came as Israel prepares for an assault of the southernmost city of Rafah, home now to more than a million Palestinians, many of them having fled other areas of the strip. It is a move that the international community, including Israel’s biggest ally the United States, has warned would create enormous human suffering.

The head of the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Nasser hospital in Gaza is not functional anymore, after a week-long siege followed by the ongoing raid.”

“Both yesterday and the day before, the WHO team was not permitted to enter the hospital to assess the conditions of the patients and critical medical needs, despite reaching the hospital compound to deliver fuel alongside partners,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “There are still about 200 patients in the hospital. At least 20 need to be urgently referred to other hospitals to receive healthcare; medical referral is every patient’s right.”

The Israeli military said its special forces were operating in and around Nasser hospital, and had killed dozens of Palestinian militants and seized a large amount of weapons in fighting across Gaza over the past day. It has consistently accused Hamas of hiding in hospitals and using civilians as shields. accusations denied by hospital staff

The military claimed in a statement that hundreds of militants were hiding in Nasser hospital and some had posed as medical staff. It released images of weapons it said were found along with medications that were transferred from Israel and intended for the more than 100 hostages abducted from Israel and being held by Hamas.

“The packages of medicine that were found were sealed and had not been transferred to the hostages,” the military said. Hamas dismissed the allegations.

Nasser hospital was still sheltering scores of patients suffering from war wounds and from the worsening health crisis in Gaza, but there was no power and not enough staff to treat them all, the spokesperson for the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, Ashraf al-Qidra, said.

“It’s gone completely out of service. There are only four medical teams – 25 staff – currently caring for patients inside the facility,” he told Reuters.

The Israeli military said the raid occurred “without harming patients and medical staff, and in accordance with international law”.

Mr Qidra said water supply to the hospital had halted because generators had been out of action for three days, sewage was flooding emergency rooms and the remaining staff had no way of treating intensive care patients. A lack of oxygen supplies – also a result of having no power – had caused the deaths of at least seven patients, he said.

The Israeli offensive inside Gaza – started in response to a bloody Hamas attack inside Israel during which around 1,100 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage – shows no sign of abating. Palestinian health authorities say around 29,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in an aerial bombardment and ground campaign, backed by a blockade.

Israel’s assault on Gaza began in the north and has moved south, with many know ending up in Rafah, the Gaza-Egypt border town which is the only crossing not controlled by Israel.

Israeli planes carried out attacks on two areas in Rafah on Sunday, including an empty building near the border with Egypt, local residents and Hamas media officials said. The second of the two strikes hit an open space where displaced people were sheltering, killing six people, local medics said.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure to get the remaining hostages released, on Saturday pledged to push on with the military campaign. Mr Netanyahu has rejected internationally-backed attempts to negotiate a ceasefire as Arab and Western countries call for a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel.

The US, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker a ceasefire and hostage release, but there’s a wide gap between Israel and Hamas’ demands. Qatar said over the weekend that the talks “have not been progressing as expected”.

Mr Netanyahu’s war cabinet on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

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