Combat hits Gaza hospitals as Israel confronts toll fears

Gaza hospitals reported being under constant fire and running on nearly exhausted supplies Saturday as Israel rejected key allies’ condemnation of a rising civilian death toll in the Hamas-controlled territory.

The director of the besieged Palestinian territory’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, said on Saturday the compound was struck repeatedly overnight and lost power for hours after its generator was hit.

“We received calls about dozens of dead and hundreds wounded in air and artillery strikes, but our ambulances weren’t able to go out because of gunfire,” said hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya.

Israel has denied targeting hospitals and its army has accused Hamas of using the medical facilities as command centres and hideouts, a charge the Palestinian militant group denies.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said dozens of premature babies at Al-Shifa compound were at risk of dying because the lack of generator fuel meant their incubators could be shut down on Saturday as fighting raged.

They added one of the babies had died, and one person was killed and several others wounded in a strike on Al-Shifa early Saturday.

The suffering in Gaza has prompted growing calls for a halt in five weeks of fighting in order to protect civilian lives and allow humanitarian aid into the densely populated territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Israel had the right to defend itself but urged it to stop strikes on civilians in Gaza: “These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back, saying the responsibility for any harm to civilians lies with Hamas.

“Israel does everything in its power to avoid harming civilians and urges them to leave the battle areas,” he said.

Hamas fighters smashed through the militarised border on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 people hostage, according to the most recent Israeli figures.

The Gaza health ministry says Israeli fighting has killed more than 11,000 people, also mostly civilians and thousands of them children.

Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed group present in Gaza, said on Saturday its “fighters are engaged in fierce clashes in the vicinity of Al-Shifa hospital complex” and other areas of Gaza City, claiming to have caused “casualties in the ranks of the (Israeli) enemy forces”.

– ‘Far too many’ deaths –

Concern over the civilian toll has also come from staunch Israel ally Washington, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Friday: “Far too many Palestinians have been killed.”

The conflict has stoked regional tensions, with deadly cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. 

Speaking at a summit of Arab and Muslim leaders in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called on Islamic governments to designate Israel’s military a “terrorist organisation”.

He also urged nations that have ties with Israel to sever them and called for greater support for Palestinians.

Iran backs Hamas as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels, placing it at the centre of concerns the war could expand.

In northern Gaza, the director of the Indonesian hospital said lack of fuel forced the facility to cut power to thinks like their desalination plant, scanners and lifts.

“The hospital is working with 30-40 percent of its capacity,” Atef Al-Kahlot said.

“We call on the honourable people of the world, if any of them are left, to put pressure on the occupation forces to supply the Indonesian hospital and the rest of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip.”

Hospitals have become key sites for Palestinians seeking refuge from the intense gun battles and bombardment.

A wounded boy at the Indonesian hospital, Youssef Al-Najjar, said he was waiting for surgery but the necessary machines were off due to lack of power.

“I’m very thirsty but I’m not allowed to drink or eat until the operation is done,” he added.

Twenty of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “no longer functioning”, the UN’s humanitarian agency said.

– Tens of thousands flee –

Fighting has reduced some streets in Gaza to ruins, with the sounds of apparent explosions and gunfire caught Saturday on AFPTV’s Gaza City camera.

The bodies of about 50 people killed in a strike on Gaza City’s Al-Buraq school were taken to the Al-Shifa hospital, its director said Friday. 

Israel on Saturday said its forces launched a air strike on the school that killed a Hamas company commander saying the group uses civilians as “human shields” — a charge it denies.

The exodus toward Gaza’s south, which has accelerated under intense fighting and through evacuation corridors, has seen tens of thousands of people flee in recent days.

An estimated 30,000 additional Palestinians went southwards through a corridor opened by the Israeli military on Friday, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office OCHA.

The Israeli military said that around 150,000 Palestinians have left in a “mass evacuation” south in recent days from the area of the northern Gaza Strip where combat is heavy.

However, strikes were hitting buildings at the southern end of Gaza in Rafah, the area of the densely-populated territory to which civilians have been urged to evacuate. 

“They struck us with a missile, and they are innocent people,” said Harb Fojou, standing near the rubble of a destroyed building.

Almost 1.6 million people have been internally displaced since October 7, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA — about two thirds of Gaza’s population.

Hamas’s bloody October 7 attacks and Israel’s relentless military campaign have sparked public demonstrations around the world.

More than 100,000 protesters are expected to march through London on Saturday in support of Palestinians, British police said, also anticipating right-wing counter-protesters.

Demonstrators on Friday blockaded the southeastern England factory of BAE Systems, charging that the military equipment maker provided “components for military aircraft currently being used by Israeli forces in the bombardment of Gaza”.


Originally published as Combat hits Gaza hospitals as Israel confronts toll fears

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