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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Thousands cannot leave Gaza hospital despite evacuation order, aid group says



Wounded Palestinians arriving at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza, on Monday. (PHOTO WIKIPEDIA)

By Victoria Kim and Hiba Yazbek


Thousands of people were trapped at a hospital by heavy fighting in the southern Gaza Strip, and Israeli forces on Wednesday had surrounded a second hospital where displaced people were sheltering, aid agencies said, after Israel’s military ordered evacuations for that part of the city of Khan Younis.


The evacuation order posted by the military’s Arabic-language spokesperson, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, designated blocks that include the grounds of the two facilities, Nasser Hospital and Al-Amal Hospital. They are among the last hospitals still providing some medical care to patients in Gaza even as many more people seek refuge there from intensifying Israeli air and ground attacks.


The Palestine Red Crescent Society on Wednesday reported “intense shelling” near Al-Amal hospital, which it runs, and said a strike had killed three people outside its offices in an adjacent building. Israeli forces were “surrounding” its teams and “enforcing restrictions on movement” around its offices and the hospital, the group said.


The Gaza Health Ministry said in a statement that Nasser Hospital had in effect been cut off by “continuous bombing,” preventing injured people from getting there and blocking the transfer of patients to the nearby Jordanian field hospital. The United Nations’ humanitarian affairs office said in its daily update Tuesday that the Jordanian hospital was also included in the evacuation area.


The three hospitals, with a total of more than 600 beds, account for one-fifth of the remaining functional hospital capacity in Gaza, according to the U.N. It said the evacuation area held 88,000 residents and an estimated 425,000 displaced people, packed into about 1.5 square miles.


“The Israeli occupation isolates Nasser Medical Complex and puts the lives of staff, patients and displaced people at risk,” Ashraf Al-Qudra, the spokesperson for the Gaza Health Ministry, said in a statement.


The aid group Doctors Without Borders said late Tuesday that its staff at Nasser could hear bombs and heavy gunfire, and that 850 patients and thousands of others sheltering there were unable to leave because the roads from the hospital were either inaccessible or too dangerous. The group said that it was “deeply concerned” for the people’s safety.


The evacuation orders came around the same time that the military said it had encircled Khan Younis after weeks of intense fighting and bombardment. The Israeli military has said it was focused on hunting down Hamas leaders in the city, which is densely packed with displaced civilians who fled the northern half of the territory at the military’s urging.


In a statement Wednesday, Israel accused Hamas of exploiting the civilian population and said that its operation in Khan Younis would continue until it had finished “dismantling Hamas’ military framework and Hamas strongholds.”


As many as 7,000 people were believed to have been sheltering on the grounds of Nasser Hospital last week, many of whom fled as fighting intensified. The Israeli military has said mortar fire has been launched at its troops from the hospital, which is the largest in southern Gaza. Its claim could not be independently verified. Israel has long said that Hamas uses hospitals to hide militants and weapons.


The World Health Organization said last week that Nasser Hospital alone had treated 700 patients in one day and was struggling to attend to growing numbers of wounded people amid the escalating violence in Khan Younis.

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