Casualties feared as Israel launches overnight raid on Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital

Palestinian journalist Wadea Abu Alsoud, trapped inside medical complex, says situation ’catastrophic’

Shweta Sharma
Monday 18 March 2024 11:24 GMT
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Israeli forces launched an overnight raid at Gaza’s largest medical facility, the Al-Shifa Hospital, and detained 80 people amid fears that many others were killed in the compound where thousands were taking shelter.

The operation by the Israeli forces in the medical facility caused multiple casualties and set off a massive fire in one of the buildings, Palestinian health authorities said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its soldiers were at Al-Shifa to carry out a "high precision operation in limited areas" following intel that Hamas terrorists were operating from the hospital.

A fire broke out in the hospital’s surgical wing due to Israeli bombing, reported Al-Jazeera, adding that some people were injured and killed.

Tanks surrounded the hospital in the dark of night and drones and quadcopters were also reported over the facility, causing panic among medics, patients, and other people who were inside.

“IDF troops are currently conducting a precise operation in the area of Shifa Hospital – based on intelligence information indicating the use of the hospital by senior Hamas terrorists to conduct and promote terrorist activity,” IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.

Gaza’s Health Ministry, an agency of the Hamas-controlled government, said Israeli forces have “fabricated narratives to deceive the world” to justify the storming of the Al-Shifa Hospital.

“We hold the Israeli occupation responsible for the lives of medical staff, patients and displaced people inside the Al-Shifa medical complex,” it said.

The Health Ministry said communication had been cut off with people trapped inside the surgery and emergency units of one of the buildings. Many people were suffocating from the smoke caused by the fire.

“There are casualties, including deaths and injuries, and it’s impossible to rescue anyone due to the intensity of the fire and targeting of anyone approaching the windows,” the ministry said.

Unverified videos on social media showed dozens of people fleeing the hospital compound with their flashlights on as the sound of bombing rang out.

Rear Admiral Hagari said during the encirclement of the complex “terrorists opened fire from within the hospital” and soldiers returned fire.

Displaced Palestinians gather in the yard of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital on 10 December
Displaced Palestinians gather in the yard of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital on 10 December (AFP via Getty Images)

The Israeli military issued grainy drone footage of the operation, showing troops coming under fire from a number of buildings in the hospital complex.

Footage circulated on social media appeared to show an Israeli tank blocking the main gate of Al Shifa.

Palestinian journalist Wadea Abu Alsoud was trapped inside the medical complex and shared the video, saying it could be his last.

He described the situation as “catastrophic” and there are “intense clashes”.

“This might be my last video,” he said in the video. “We’re now besieged inside Al-Shifa Hospital. We’re being heavily shot at. The occupation suddenly raided the hospital and its vicinity. As you can hear now, there are intense clashes in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital. We’re hearing sounds coming from the gate. There is shrapnel falling over the hospital’s yard.”

Not far from Al-Shifa, Israeli forces raided a school where displaced families were taking refuge and several people were detained, residents said.

Tanks arrived in the area around the Beach refugee camp and fired shells at some buildings nearby, residents said.

On Sunday, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans to launch a military assault on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where more than one million Palestinians are sheltering with nowhere else to turn.

"We will operate in Rafah. This will take several weeks, and it will happen," he said, without clarifying if he meant the assault would last for weeks or would begin in weeks.

It comes amid mounting warnings by the US, UK, and other nations over the humanitarian crisis such an operation would cause in the last relatively safe place in the crowded Gaza enclave after more than five months of war.

US president Joe Biden has called an attack on Rafah a “red line” if undertaken without provisions to protect civilians. But he has also said the US will not abandon its support for Israel, its closest ally in the Middle East, regardless of Mr Netanyahu’s actions.

In November last year, IDF forces raided Al-Shifa Hospital to conduct what they called a “search operation for Hamas terrorists” and at least two babies died as a result of downed electricity in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The IDF later released videos and photographs of what it described as an “operational tunnel” within the Al-Shifa Hospital complex, as well as footage of a vehicle containing weapons. Earlier it released videos of duffel bags with guns that it said were found inside the hospital.

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