Israel Withdraws From Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital – Large Portions of Facility Destroyed in Fighting 
Al Shifa Hospital’s Surgery wing Monday April 1, 2024 after Israeli forces withdrew from the compound.

Israel said Monday that its forces had withdrawn from Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest health facility, after two weeks of fierce fighting with Hamas gunmen barricaded inside that destroyed large parts of the facility, including the surgery, maternity and emergency wards.  

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Sunday evening that some 21 patients had died during the fighting. Around 107 patients trapped in the compound had been moved multiple times, lacking adequate food, medicines and access to clean water and sanitation for basic hygiene and wound care, he stressed.  

He added that a mission to Gaza, originally scheduled for Saturday, had to be postponed and urged Israel to “facilitate a safe humanitarian corridor and a better deconfliction system for WHO and partners to support patient transfers. 

Israel re-entered Shifa in a surprise attack early Monday morning, 18 March, saying that key Hamas leaders had regrouped inside following Israel’s first raid on the hospital in November. 

Israel said it had killed some 400 Hamas operatives in the two week operation, including the heads of the organization’s rocket unit and supplies, as well as senior intelligence figures. It detained 900 more people, of which it said 500 were found to be affiliated with Hamas or its ally, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The army also released footage of weapons caches seized in the raids, reportedly from patient beds, drop ceilings and walls, saying other “valuable intelligence” had also been recovered.   

The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza said some 400 people had been killed at Shifa hospital, including a female doctor and her son. Following Israel’s withdrawal, WAFA, the official Palestinian Authority news agency, said “hundreds of bodies of slain civilians” were strewn on the hospital grounds. The hospital’s few remaining patients were being moved to Al Ahli Hospital about two kilometres to the south-east, Reuters reported. 

Over 6,000 people had been sheltering on the hospital grounds when Israel first entered the compound, those who were not killed or detained fled in the first days of fighting. 

Al Aqsa Hospital compound hit by another attack  

Further south in Gaza’s middle region, WHO’s Tedros said that Al-Aqsa Hospital had been hit Sunday by an Israeli airstrike while a WHO team was on a needs assessment mission there, including the collection of incubators to be sent to northern Gaza. 

Tedros said that four people were killed in the attack, which hit a tent camp inside the hospital compound. But the WHO mission officers were unharmed.  Israel said that it had launched “a precision strike” at an “operational Islamic Jihad command centre” positioned in the hospital courtyard. It said that the hospital building was undamaged. The BBC said, meanwhile, that seven journalists including one BBC freelancer, were amongst those injured in the Israeli strike that hit a group of makeshift tents on the hospital grounds.   

Al-Aqsa Hospital is the only hospital located in the middle area of the Gaza Strip in Deir al-Balah and was founded in 2001. As of 2018, this hospital is one of 15 public hospitals in the Gaza Strip and is managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“We again call for protection of patients, health personnel and humanitarian missions. The ongoing attacks and militarisation of hospitals must stop. International humanitarian law must be respected,” Tedros said.

The fact that Israel decided to re-occupy Shifa reflects the success of Hamas regrouping in Gaza City, despite Israel’s ostensible control of the area since late last year, experts on the conflict have observed. 

Northern Gaza has been cut off militarily by Israel from southern Gaza for weeks during the fighting, complicating aid deliveries to the area from the southern part of the strip, including the border town of Rafah, while the grinding conflict continues over the month of Ramadan. Negotiations over an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire, including the release of some of the 100 Israeli hostages still held in Gaza, have progressed only in fits and starts.

UN agencies have sounded repeated warnings of increasing hunger and risks of famine, particularly in the north where food aid deliveries are perilous. Scenes of people being killed by food parcels parachuted from the sky or shot or run over by aid trucks further underline the chaos surrounding the logistics of aid delivery. 

The International Court of Justice last week ordered Israel to allow unimpeded access of food aid to Gaza, saying that “famine is setting in.” Israel has said that it will no longer cooperate with the UNRWA personnel in aid deliveries due to UNRWA’s alleged complicity in the Hamas 7 October attacks on Israel, complicating the logistics of food deliveries.  

Meanwhile, WHO and other international relief agencies face an uphill challenge in maintaining basic functionality, let alone rebuilding, Gaza’s damaged health system, while fierce fighting continues and the threat of an invasion of Rafah looms. Only nine out of 36 Gaza hospitals continue to function, and most of those are concentrated in the southern or middle part of the enclave.  They are complemented by several emergency field hospitals, set up and run by international donors, also in the south.   

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