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On Sunday, a group from the United Nations reported that 291 individuals remained at Gaza’s biggest hospital as Israeli soldiers forced others to evacuate. Among those who were unable to leave were 32 infants in critical condition, patients with serious wounds that had become infected, and individuals with spinal injuries that rendered them immobile.
The World Health Organization, who led the mission, stated that after approximately 2,500 displaced individuals, mobile patients, and medical staff vacated the large complex on Saturday morning, the team was granted a one-hour tour of Shifa Hospital. Only 25 medical staff and patients remained at the time of the visit.
The agency reported that patients and healthcare workers were extremely afraid for their well-being and requested to be moved out of Shifa, which was described as a dangerous area. They stated that additional teams will make an effort to reach Shifa in the next few days in order to transport patients to hospitals in southern Gaza, which are also facing a high volume of patients.
Israel has continuously claimed that Hamas has a large command center located inside and beneath Shifa. The hospital has been depicted as a significant objective in Israel’s efforts to put an end to the rebel group’s control in Gaza. This comes after their attack on southern Israel six weeks ago, which sparked the ongoing war.
Hamas and medical personnel reject the accusations. Israeli soldiers stationed at the hospital and conducting searches claim to have discovered firearms and other armaments, and presented journalists with the entrance to a tunnel. The AP was unable to independently confirm Israel’s claims.
Israel claimed that Saturday’s large number of people leaving was voluntary, but the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the military had given orders for evacuation. Some of those who departed described it as a compelled exodus.
Mahmoud Abu Auf, speaking to The Associated Press over the phone, recounted how he and his family were forced to leave the congested hospital at gunpoint. He also mentioned the presence of tanks and snipers both inside and outside the hospital. Abu Auf observed three men being apprehended by Israeli soldiers.
STRIKES IN THE NORTH AND SOUTH
In another part of northern Gaza, numerous individuals lost their lives in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp after a reported Israeli airstrike struck a crowded U.N. shelter on Saturday. The Fakhoura school in the camp suffered extensive damage, according to injured survivors Ahmed Radwan and Yassin Sharif.
Radwan described the scenes as terrifying, with the bodies of women and children strewn on the ground. Some were crying out for assistance. Photos from a nearby hospital, taken by AP, displayed over 20 corpses covered in sheets stained with blood.
The Israeli army, which has urged Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate, stated that its soldiers were present in the region “to target terrorists.” It seldom addresses specific attacks, citing its goal of targeting Hamas while limiting harm to civilians.
An airstrike from Israel struck a residential structure near Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Saturday, resulting in the death of at least 26 Palestinians. The fatalities were taken to a nearby hospital, as reported by a doctor.
According to Palestinian health authorities, over 11,500 Palestinians have lost their lives. An additional 2,700 are believed to be missing and buried under rubble. The number includes both civilians and combatants, although Israel claims that most of those killed were militants.
HOSTAGES AND AID
Approximately 1,200 individuals have lost their lives in Israel, with the majority being innocent civilians who were killed during Hamas’ October 7th assault. In this attack, the group also forcibly returned around 240 captives to Gaza. The military reports that 52 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Hamas has freed four captives, Israel successfully saved one, and the remains of two hostages were discovered near Shifa in a zone where there was intense combat.
The countries of Israel, the United States, and Qatar (acting as a mediator for Hamas) have been in talks for several weeks regarding the release of hostages. A senior official from the White House stated on Saturday that this release must be finalized before significant amounts of crucial aid can be provided.
Brett McGurk, the National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East at the White House, stated at a conference in Bahrain that freeing a large number of hostages would lead to a notable pause in the conflict and a substantial increase in humanitarian aid.
During the war, Gaza’s primary power plant ceased operation and Israel has also stopped providing electricity. As a result, local officials have been unable to run essential facilities such as water treatment plants, bakeries, and hospitals without fuel for generators. The supply of fuel has dwindled since Israel halted all imports at the beginning of the war.
Over two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants have been displaced from their homes. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is offering essential aid to hundreds of thousands of individuals seeking refuge in schools and other locations.
During the weekend, Israel permitted UNRWA to bring in sufficient fuel to sustain humanitarian activities for a few more days, as well as maintain functioning internet and phone services. UNRWA had been compelled to suspend aid operations on Friday due to a communication blackout.
The U.N. reports that Gaza has only received 10% of the food it needs daily from Egypt, and the water system being shut down has resulted in a majority of the population having to consume unsafe water.
A WIDER OFFENSIVE?
On Saturday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced that Israel’s military was increasing their actions in Gaza City. He stated that with each passing day, there are less areas for Hamas terrorists to carry out their activities. Gallant also warned that the militants would soon realize this when they reach southern Gaza in the upcoming days.
His comments were the clearest indication yet that the military plans to expand its offensive to southern Gaza, where Israel had told Palestinian civilians to seek refuge. The evacuation zone is already crammed with displaced civilians, and it was not clear where they would go if the offensive moved closer.
While acknowledging the potential for a wider offensive, Israel continues to disagree with its primary ally, the United States, on the course of action for Gaza once Hamas is removed from power.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the Israeli military would have unrestricted authority to operate in the territory after the war. This suggests that they may temporarily repossess the territory from which soldiers and settlers were withdrawn in 2005.
In a recently published op-ed in The Washington Post, President Joe Biden asserted that Gaza and the West Bank should be reunified and governed by a revitalized Palestinian Authority. He also called for global leaders to strive towards a resolution that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The current administration under Netanyahu is firmly against the idea of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority has stated that it will only resume governing Gaza, where Hamas took control in 2007, as part of a larger plan for a two-state resolution to the long-standing conflict.
Magdy provided a report from Cairo.
Complete coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict can be found at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.