Bashar Taleb Agence France-Presse “The attacks against the al-Chifa hospital have intensified dramatically in recent hours,” the NGO Doctors Without Borders said on Saturday.
Mai Yaghi – Agence France-Presse and Sarah Benhaida – Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem
- Middle East
The situation is increasingly dramatic for hospitals in the north of the Gaza Strip, where two premature babies in intensive care died on Saturday due to lack of electricity according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), close to violent fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters.
Arab and Muslim leaders called for a ceasefire, also demanded by thousands of demonstrators in Europe, amid fears of a widening of the conflict, triggered by a unprecedented attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Israeli soil on October 7, after a skirmish between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah.
On the 36th day of war, 20 of the 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip are “out of service” according to the UN office of humanitarian affairs (OCHA).
Explosions and heavy exchanges of fire Gaza City, in the north of this small Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas since 2007, are visible on AFP images.
Israel declared war on Hamas after the attack by its commandos, to “eradicate” the Islamist movement. Since then, Israeli bombings have killed 11,078 Palestinians, mainly civilians, including 4,506 children, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
On the Israeli side, at least 1,200 people were killed, the majority civilians, on the day of the Hamas attack, considered a “terrorist organization” for Israel, the United States and the European Union. In addition, some 240 hostages were taken to Gaza, according to the Israeli army, which has lost 42 soldiers since the launch of the ground offensive on October 27.
The situation in hospitals deeply worries several organizations international. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports “incessant bombings” on hospitals in Gaza City over the past 24 hours. The al-Chifa hospital, the largest in the territory of some 360 km2, was “hit several times, including the maternity ward.”
Two premature babies “died because their incubator no longer worked, there was no more electricity,” said Dr. Mohammed Obeid, MSF surgeon in the neonatal department, in a message broadcast by the NGO on the social network“Another adult patient died because his artificial respirator stopped” due to lack of electricity, he added, highlighting the precariousness that reigns in the hospital: “There is no electricity, no water, no food” in this establishment which accommodates 600 patients.
Evacuation of babies
The situation in al-Chifa is “really catastrophic,” warned Ann Taylor, MSF head of mission in the Palestinian Territories.
The director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Robert Mardini, declared himself “shocked and dismayed by the images and information coming from the hospital.”
For his part, the director of the hospital, Mohammed Abou Salmiya, asked “the international community to put pressure on the Israeli government so that it stops targeting hospitals and ambulances.”
The Israeli army said it would help “evacuate babies from the pediatric ward to a safer hospital” on Sunday. She assures that there is “no shooting at the hospital and no siege” of the establishment. “There is fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas around the hospital,” said Colonel Moshe Tetron.
The army is waging fierce fighting against Hamas in the heart of the city of Gaza, where it says the “center” of the movement's infrastructure is located, entrenched in a network of tunnels.
The armed wing of Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, confirmed that its “fighters were engaged in violent clashes, particularly in the vicinity of the al-Chifa compound, against Israeli soldiers.
“The shooting never stops, the airstrikes are incessant like artillery shells,” a witness who is in this hospital told AFP by telephone.
Condemnation in Riyadh
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, “Israeli tanks are 20 meters from Al-Quds hospital”, another establishment in Gaza city where 14,000 displaced people are sheltering.
“The hospital is isolated for the sixth consecutive day because of the incessant bombings” which “directly” target the establishment, affirmed the organization.
Israeli authorities repeat that Hamas uses civilian buildings such as hospitals to carry out attacks or hide tunnels, which the Islamist movement denies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “responsibility for any harm done to civilians lies[ed] to Hamas”, which according to him uses them as “human shields”.
Calls for a ceasefire, which have increased since the start of ground operations, are rejected by Israel and its main ally, the United States, believing that such a decision would benefit Hamas.
In London, around 300,000 people demonstrated on Saturday to “stop the bombing of Gaza” and demand a “ceasefire now”. There were 20,000 in Brussels, several thousand in Paris and around 500 in Tunis.
In Riyadh, Arab and Muslim leaders meeting at an extraordinary summit condemned “double standards” in international reactions to the war, rejecting the Israeli argument of “self-defense” after the Hamas attack.
The head of Saudi diplomacy castigated “countries which […] turn a blind eye to Israel’s failure to respect the basics of international law.”
The international community fears an extension of the conflict on the border between Lebanon and Israel, while since October 8, there have been daily exchanges of fire between the army and Hezbollah and targeting targets deeper every day in both countries . Israeli military strikes also target Syria from where Hezbollah launches rockets.
The leader of the Shiite movement, Hassan Nasrallah, spoke of a strengthening of operations against Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned, saying Beirut could suffer the same fate as Gaza if Hezbollah drags Lebanon into war.
More than 90 people were killed on the Lebanese side during cross-border clashes, according to an AFP count, most of them Hezbollah fighters. Six soldiers and two civilians were killed on the Israeli side, according to Israeli authorities.
In the Gaza Strip, nearly 200,000 Palestinians have fled the north of the territory over the past three days, on orders from the Israeli army, to take refuge in the south, more spared, and try to leave for Egypt via the Rafah crossing.
Israel agreed to take daily humanitarian “breaks” to allow the opening for a few hours of two “corridors”.
Pounded relentlessly for more than a month, the small Palestinian territory where 1.6 of the 2.4 million inhabitants have been displaced according to the UN is plunged into a catastrophic humanitarian situation.
The total siege imposed by Israel since October 9 on the Gaza Strip has deprived the population of water, electricity, food and medicine.