Fierce Gunbattles Waged Around Northern Gaza Hospitals  
Bombed out ruins of Tel Al Zaatar neighborhood in northern Gaza City, near the Indonesian Hospital.

Fierce gun battles between Israeli and Hamas forces raged in the vicinity of several strategically located hospitals in northern Gaza over the weekend and into Monday – leaving the fate of the remaining patients hanging in the balance. 

At Al Shifa hospital, hospital staff were reportedly trying to keep some 37 premature babies warm by wrapping them in foil in an operating room – after electricity in the nursery housing their incubators failed due to a lack of fuel.  Three babies had already died, the hospital director Mohammed Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera in a phone interview early Monday, and others were at risk as oxygen supplies dwindled.

“Premature and new-born babies on life support are reportedly dying due to power, oxygen, and water cuts at Al-Shifa Hospital, while others are at risk. Staff across a number of hospitals are reporting lack of fuel, water and basic medical supplies, putting the lives of all patients at immediate risk,” the regional directors of WHO, UNICEF and the UNFPA reported in a joint statement Sunday

“We have no electricity except in the emergency section. The nursery section is out of service, maternity hospital is out of service,” Salmiya said, “The oxygen generator is not working. Water, we don’t have a single drop,” he said, describing the situation as “catastrophic.” 

“The world cannot stand silent while hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation and despair,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterating calls for an immediate stop to the fighting.

The appeals were echoed by US President Joe Biden who said Monday that Gaza’s hospitals “must be protected”

Partial evacuation of Al Shifa  

Al Shifa Hospital – 15 October. Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs) deployed in tents outside of the compound alongside displaced people sheltering in the area.

Thousands of people sheltering at the hospital left the compound over the weekend. But many still remain on the hospital grounds, aerial photos published Monday by the New York Times suggested.

“An unconfirmed number of IDPs, along with several staff and patients have reportedly fled the Shifa hospital over the past few days, amid the intensified attacks and Israeli calls to evacuate it,” OCHA reported in its  latest newsflash, noting that the Israeli military had opened a “corridor” for people to leave.

“However, reports cited by the WHO indicated that some of those fleeing have come under fire, resulting in casualties. Humanitarian agencies have received desperate calls from staff and patients’ relatives willing to leave but fearing reported snipers around the hospital. Others, particularly people with disabilities, are physically unable to leave by themselves,” OCHA added.

Israel has said that Hamas forces are trying to discourage people from fleeing Shifa and other hospitals in the area – where it says Hamas maintains key command and control centers underground. Hamas has denied the claims.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Harari told a Sunday evening media briefing that it had offered help to the Shifa hospital director in the evacuation of the remaining patients, but Hamas was preventing them from leaving. Troops also brought some 300 litres of fuel to the hospital entrance Sunday night, but Hamas intercepted the delivery, he said. 

OCHA said in response,“Shifa’s director has stated to the media that the amount delivered would have been sufficient for 15-30 minutes only.” It added that “the hospital would have accepted if it was delivered through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”  

Fighting interrupts Al Kuds Hospital evacuation – Israel says weapons found at Rantisi Hospital

View of Rantisi Hospital from the entry point to a nearby tunnel, as displayed by Israel’s military spokesman in a video tour of the now vacant hospital grounds.

There were also fire exchanges with Hamas at the entrance to Gaza City’s Al Kuds Hospital, according to Palestinian and Israeli reports;, the latter displayed aerial video footage of Hamas gunmen by the hospital walls facing off against an Israeli tank. 

The Palestinian Red Crescent later said that Al Kuds Hospital was no longer operational – but it could not reach the installation to evacuate it either due to the fighting in the area. 

At Al Rantisi Children’s Hospital, evacuated by patients and staff over the weekend following an earlier standoff between Hamas and Israel, a video of the now-emptied grounds, released by Israel’s military, revealed an array of weapons in a room decked with childrens posters in what appeared to be the hospital basement. Mounted on the wall was an electronic device bearing a World Health Organization logo.  In other videos and photo footage, a deep, steel-reinforced tunnel was displayed, some 200 meters from the hospital walls. 

Recent Palestinian casualties now unclear

Due to a collapse in communications, the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza did not update casualty figures over the weekend, OCHA also added. 

“The latest updated, provided on Friday, showed showed that 11,078 people had been killed in the Strip since 7 October. According to Israeli official sources, 47 soldiers have been killed since the start of [Gaza] ground operations,” OCHA said.  

Around 1300 Israelis have been killed since the original Hamas incursion into Israel on 7 October, including about 300 soldiers and police.  Over the weekend, Israel revised its estimate of Israeli casualties from the 7 October raids downward from 1400 to 1200, saying that extensive forensic investigations had been required to identify the precise number of victims, some of whom had been so badly burned that even DNA samples were difficult to extract.     

Humanitarian aid deliveries in south – inferno in north  

UN water truck at Khan Younis refugee camp, in southern Gaza where hundreds of thousands of displaced people are sheltering. UNRWA has said a fuel shortage will force it to cease operations in 48 hours.

While Israeli forces tightened its chokehold on northern Gaza, the pace of humanitarian aid deliveries increased slightly in the south, with some 140 trucks entering Gaza from Egypts Rafah crossing with fuel, medicines and water supplies. But that is still a fraction of the aid that arrived daily before the war began. 

UNRWA said that its humanitarian operations in Gaza would grind to a halt within 48 hours without fuel resupplies. 

Israel has imposed a total ban on fuel deliveries to Gaza, although there were unconfirmed reports that fuel had recently been delivered to the city’s desalination plant, which forms a vital part of the region’s fresh water supplies.  

Two other water pipelines from Israel to the southern Gaza strip were also restored last week, Israel has said. But supplies to the enclave, which suffers from water scarcity in the best of times, remained desperate, particularly in the northern part of the enclave where battles continue to rage.   

Jebalya refugee in the northern strip was the scene of an inferno Monday evening as an Israeli anti-bunker munitions collapsed buildings and triggered multiple fires.  

Not too far away, the once posh Rimal neighborhood, home to a number of Palestinian government insitutions, malls and a UN Beach club, along with Al Shifa Hospital, was also a scene of devastation, with fires burning in some bombed out buildings. 

Sexual violence on 7 October  – Israeli women publish evidence of assaults

Report on gender-based violence in connection with the 7 October Hamas attacks, presented in Tel Aviv, attended by WHO Representative to Israel Michel Tieran (center right).

Meanwhile, in twin events in Tel Aviv and Boston, reports by victims and their famlies of the 7 October incursions into Israelis communities around Gaza provided grisly testimonies of alleged gender-based violence faced at the hands of Hamas gunmen that entered villages and homes early that morning.   

“Women were violently tortured… murdered and raped. Mothers were separated from their young children who were kidnapped to Gaza, Others were abducted from their homes in front of their children,” said the Israeli civil society group “Bring them Home Now,” in a report of their findings, launched in the presence of Michel Tieran, WHO Representative to Israel.

“There is a wide variety of evidence of sexual violence and horrific gender-based crimes among them videos of survivors, eyewitness, first responders… and forensic evidence,” said Dr Cochav Elkayam-Levy, an expert in international human rights law, at another event sponsored by an association of Harvard University medical students. She said videos released by Hamas and eyewitness accounts by responders described how some women were stripped, bound, and bloodied by acts of sexual violence before being killed or taken captive. 

Later in the day, Hamas’ armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, published a statement and video footage claiming that one Israeli female hostage, 19-year-old soldier Noa Marciano, had been killed in an Israeli airstrike, while another captive soldier was wounded.    

There are still no clues as to the whereabouts or condition of the hostages still presumed to be alive.  But some of the women are elderly and require medicines for chronic diseases; others are under treatment for breast cancer, the families noted in the event in Tel Aviv. They called upon UN Women, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other UN organizations to review the evidence of sexual violence against victims and to demand access to the hostages in captivity, including not only women but some 30 children.   

Image Credits: @GazaReport, WHO/EMRO, @idfonline.

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