On Monday, Gaza’s largest hospital found itself surrounded by Israeli troops, leading to hundreds of patients being stranded and thousands seeking refuge in the vicinity.
The Al-Shifa facility in Gaza City has become a focal point in the territory’s bloodiest ever war, which erupted five weeks ago.
Israel’s relentless bombing campaign has killed at least 11,180 people in Gaza, including 4,609 children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Israel declared war on Gaza following Hamas’ deadly incursion into its southern borders – a move which international human rights organizations have described as “collective punishment,” which constitutes as a war crime under international law.
On Sunday, witnesses at the hospital told AFP that “violent fighting” raged throughout the night as Israeli forces reportedly battled the militant group.
The sounds of small arms fire and aerial bombardments were echoing across the sprawling complex, amid reports that the infirm – including children – were dying for lack of basic provisions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies said as many as 3,000 patients and staff are sheltering inside without adequate fuel, water or food.
Doctors reported two incubated babies died after power was cut in the neonatal unit and a man had died when his ventilator shut down.
“Regrettably, the hospital is not functioning as a hospital anymore,” said WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, after making contact with on-the-ground staff.
“It’s been three days without electricity, without water,” he said, describing the situation inside as “dire and perilous.”
‘No longer functioning’
Israel says that Hamas militants – who also took 240 people hostage during their October 7 attacks – are hiding inside the facility and underground tunnel complexes, a claim which the group and Gazan residents have repeatedly denied.
President Isaac Herzog has gone as far as describing Al-Shifa as Hamas’s operational “headquarters”, but denied that Israeli forces had targeted the facility.
Youssef Abu Rish, deputy health minister in the Hamas government, on Sunday said three more premature babies had died along with six other patients who had been in critical condition.
“We fear the toll will rise further by morning,” he said.
Across Gaza City at the Al-Quds hospital the picture was also said to be dire, with the Palestinian Red Crescent warning it was now out of service due to lack of generator fuel.
Twenty of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “no longer functioning”, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency.