April 20, 2024

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Middle East Crisis: A mysterious construction project takes shape in Egypt near Gaza

Middle East Crisis: A mysterious construction project takes shape in Egypt near Gaza

On Thursday, Israel sent its forces to the Al-Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip in what it said was a search for Hamas fighters and the bodies of hostages, an incursion that raised concern about the fate of hundreds of patients, medical workers and paramedics. Many displaced Palestinians took refuge there to escape the war.

The raid came two days after the Israeli army ordered the displaced to evacuate the hospital, which is the largest in southern Gaza and one of the last operating hospitals in the Strip, and after health officials warned that the military operation there could be disastrous for civilians.

Ashraf Al-Qudra, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said that the Israeli army demolished the southern wall of the complex and began storming it, storming the ambulance center and an area where displaced people were living in tents.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which has staff at the hospital, He said The bombing on Thursday morning left “an unspecified number of dead and wounded” and called on Israel to stop the operation.

The Israeli army said that Special Forces soldiers “carried out a precise and limited operation inside Al-Nasser” against Hamas, which it accused of hiding in the hospital among wounded civilians. Israel, which has said Hamas is using hospitals across Gaza as cover for military operations, said it had intelligence, including from released hostages, that Hamas was holding prisoners in the hospital and that their bodies may be there.

It was not possible to independently verify Israel's allegations nor those of the authorities in Gaza.

Israel said on Thursday that it had arrested “a number of suspects” at Nasser Hospital, and Dr. Al-Qudra said that Israeli forces had bulldozed graves on the hospital grounds. In previous raids on Gaza hospitals during the war, the Israeli army arrested medical staff and dug graves, saying it was searching for the bodies of hostages.

Hamas and hospital directors have denied that Hamas uses medical facilities for military operations. International law experts said Israel is obligated to protect hospitals and other civilian infrastructure with only limited exceptions, such as if they are clearly being used for military purposes.

The Israeli military faces increasing international condemnation over its actions against hospitals, mosques and schools in Gaza, and said on Thursday that it aims to ensure Nasser's ability to continue treating patients despite the military operation. Admiral Daniel Hagari, the IDF's chief spokesman, said that at the hospital's request, the military had arranged to allow international relief groups to deliver medical supplies and equipment to the hospital in recent days, including oxygen and fuel tanks.

As Nasser Hospital ran out of anesthesia, fuel, food and medical supplies, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that Israel had blocked the delivery of aid to the hospital twice in recent days. Israel has denied blocking aid, and said on Monday that the World Health Organization should avoid “unfoundedly accusing” it of doing so.

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Nasser became the focus of the Israeli ground offensive against Hamas in southern Gaza, and doctors there described bombings and shootings that killed people inside the compound as Israeli forces headed toward its gates. After the Israeli army ordered the displaced people who had taken shelter there to evacuate, hundreds of Palestinians fled the hospital on Wednesday, although it was not clear where they would go in an area bombed by airstrikes and rife with fighting.

Admiral Hajari said the Israeli army had opened a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to leave the compound safely. But some Palestinians who left Al-Nasser Hospital on Thursday risked being exposed to drone fire outside, according to Mohammed Salama, a journalist who fled the hospital.

Doctors and health officials said on Tuesday that people who tried to flee the hospital were shot, and that some of them were killed.

Nir Dinar, an IDF spokesman, responded to suggestions that Israel attacked evacuees, saying he “would be happy to see some evidence.”

Patrick Kingsley Contributed to reporting from Jerusalem; Rawan Sheikh Ahmed From Haifa, Israel; Amira Harouda From Doha, Qatar; And Adam Sela From Tel Aviv.