South Gaza hospital forcibly evacuated – paramedics

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File photo showing delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visiting al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on 21 March 2024Image source, PALESTINE RED CRESCENT SOCIETY

The Palestinian Red Crescent has said staff and patients from al-Amal hospital in southern Gaza were trapped in ambulances for 20 hours after Israeli troops forced them to evacuate.

According to the organisation, troops shot and wounded two people who tried to clear a road as they left overnight.

The ambulances then had to turn back and wait outside the hospital, it said.

Israel’s military said its intelligence indicated that “terrorists are using civilian infrastructure” in the area.

On Sunday, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that Israeli troops were besieging both al-Amal and the nearby Nasser hospital, amid intense hostilities in the west of the city of Khan Younis.

Meanwhile, fighting is continuing around al-Shifa hospital, in northern Gaza, where the military says it has killed 170 “terrorists” and detained about 500 suspects linked to Hamas or Islamic Jihad in a raid that began a week ago.

The military says hospitals have been used by Hamas as bases and has released videos and photos to support its claim. Hamas denies the accusation.

The Palestinian Red Crescent, which runs al-Amal hospital, said in a statement on Sunday that Israeli troops had been firing smoke bombs around al-Amal hospital to try to force staff, patients and displaced people to leave, while bulldozing surrounding streets and erecting barriers.

It also said a staff member named Amir Abu Aisha had been killed by Israeli gunfire, and that a displaced person had been wounded in the head.

In the afternoon, the medical organisation announced that all displaced people and patients who could move independently had been evacuated and were heading towards the al-Mawasi area, west of Khan Younis.

That left nine patients, their 10 companions, a displaced family with disabled children and a number of hospital staff still inside the hospital, it added.

“We woke up at 02:30 [on Sunday]. There was constant gunfire within the surroundings of the hospital. Our co-worker Amir was martyred while he was at the human resources [office]. He was hit in the chest by a bullet and died immediately,” Samy al-Omry, one of the paramedics at al-Amal, told BBC Arabic’s Gaza Lifeline radio service while he walked to al-Mawasi on Monday.

“After that, we were surprised by [Israeli vehicles] entering the hospital, seizing it and closing the gates with mountains of sand. Drones with loudspeakers kept saying: ‘Evacuate the hospital now.'” he added.

“Every time we tried to leave [Israeli forces] would fire on us, until they sent a message with a child who had gone out earlier, telling us to go out where they had made a pathway.”

A displaced Palestinian man carries his belongings while walking along a street in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip (24 March 2024)

Image source, EPA

On Monday, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that the remaining staff and wounded had spent 20 hours trapped inside ambulances after being forcibly evacuated overnight.

“While attempting to leave through the military checkpoint, the teams encountered difficulty moving due to extensive excavation and infrastructure destruction,” it said.

“During the attempt to clear the rubble and obstacles on the road, the [Israeli] forces opened fire towards two of the teams trying to remove the rubble, directly injuring them.

“Efforts were made to evacuate them, and the teams managed to rescue one of them, while they were unable to deal with the second case due to uncertainty about his fate.”

Later, the ambulances were forced by Israeli troops to return to al-Amal, “where they found the hospital gate closed, making it impossible for the teams to re-enter”, it added.

The UN said the Red Crescent staff and wounded patients had reportedly arrived in the southern town of Rafah on Monday afternoon.

When asked to comment on the reports, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it called on Hamas to “cease using hospitals and additional civilian infrastructure as shields for their terrorist activities which harm innocent civilians”.

“The IDF will continue to operate in accordance with international law and take measures to uphold the safety and well-being of civilians,” it added.

Earlier on Monday, it put out a statement saying that its forces were carrying out “precise targeted raids on terror infrastructure in al-Amal”.

More than 20 fighters had been killed over the past day in close-quarters combat and air strikes, and hundreds of people had been evacuated, it added.

Israeli forces raided al-Amal hospital in February. The IDF said about 20 suspects, including Hamas members, were detained before they withdrew.

The situation at nearby Nasser hospital was unclear, but witnesses told Reuters news agency on Monday that tanks had formed a cordon around it.

Map showing Israeli operations and evacuation areas

The IDF also said on Monday troops were “continuing to conduct precise operational activity in the al-Shifa hospital area while preventing harm to civilians, patients, medical teams and medical equipment”.

On Sunday night, Médecins Sans Frontières quoted its staff as saying heavy air strikes and fierce fighting were continuing around al-Shifa, which it warned were endangering patients and medics trapped inside with very few supplies.

“Access to the facility has been impossible for days, and the surgical department is reportedly heavily damaged, leaving patients without care,” the charity added.

“Our staff in the area also say there are mass arrests of medical staff and other people in and around the hospital.”

The IDF meanwhile said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters were “barricading themselves” inside, “firing from inside the Shifa emergency room and maternity ward and throwing explosive devices from the Shifa burn ward”.

Israeli troops first raided al-Shifa in November. After an extensive search, they blew up a large tunnel with rooms which ran under the site before pulling out.

More than 32,300 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, including 107 people in the past 24 hours, according to the territory’s health ministry.

The conflict began after Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking 253 others as hostages.

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