"Hospitals are not battlegrounds": UN, Red Cross alarmed by raid at Gaza hospital

Israeli forces entered Al-Shifa hospital, targeting what they say is a Hamas command centre in tunnels beneath patients and the civilians seeking refuge there from intense combat.

Published: 15th November 2023 07:30 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th November 2023 07:30 PM   |  A+A-

Palestinians mourn

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in the hospital in Khan Younis, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. (AP)


GENEVA: The United Nations and the Red Cross voiced alarm Wednesday after Israeli forces raided Gaza's largest hospital, demanding that thousands of patients and civilians be protected.

Israeli forces entered Al-Shifa hospital, targeting what they say is a Hamas command centre in tunnels beneath patients and the civilians seeking refuge there from intense combat.

"I'm appalled by reports of military raids in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza," UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said on X, formerly Twitter. "The protection of newborns, patients, medical staff and all civilians must override all other concerns. Hospitals are not battlegrounds."

Israel's mission to the UN in Geneva lashed out Griffiths, linking his comments to a meeting he held in the Swiss city on Wednesday with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

"Did you tweet this before or after you met with the Iranian foreign minister this morning? Did you call on him to stop funding and arming a terrorist organisation using hospitals to hide?" it said on X.

"Iran does not care about the people of Gaza. The UN needs to stop being used as pawns in Iran's desire for death and destruction."


'A war zone'
Israel vowed to crush Hamas after the Palestinian militant group launched unprecedented cross-border attacks that Israel says left 1,200 people dead with another 239 taken hostage.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says Israel's ensuing air and ground offensive has killed 11,320 people, mostly civilians, including thousands of children.

Al-Shifa is a key objective in Israel's campaign.

The United Nations estimates that at least 2,300 people -- patients, staff and displaced civilians -- are inside and may be unable to escape because of fierce fighting.

Witnesses have described horrific conditions inside the hospital, with medical procedures taking place without anaesthetic, families with scant food or water living in corridors and the stench of decomposing corpses filling the air.

Griffiths stressed in a separate video statement Wednesday that he understood Israel wanted to find Hamas leaders, but insisted that was no excuse for turning hospitals into a battlefield.

"Hamas must not, should not, use a place like a hospital as a shield for their presence," he said.

READ MORE | Israel-Hamas war: Gaza chokes ravaged by Israeli bombardments; 'no fuel entered the Palestinian territory since Oct 7,' says UN agency

'Extremely concerned'
Griffiths said his UN humanitarian agency's main concern was "for the welfare of the patients of that hospital, which is, of course, in great peril at the moment".

"We have no fuel to run it. The babies have no incubators, newly born. Some are dead already. We can't move them out. It's too dangerous," he said.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency had lost touch again with staff at the hospital.

"We're extremely worried for their and their patients' safety."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "extremely concerned about the impact on sick and wounded people, medical staff, and civilians".

"All measures to avoid any consequences on them must be taken," the ICRC said, insisting that "patients, medical staff, and civilians must be at all times protected".

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