KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military raided Gaza’s largest hospital early Wednesday, conducting what it called a targeted operation against Hamas as troops seized broader control of northern Gaza, including capturing the territory’s legislature building and its police headquarters.
In recent days, the focus of the war has been Shifa Hospital, with hundreds of patients, staff and displaced people trapped inside. Shifa had stopped operations over the weekend, as its supplies dwindled and a lack of electricity left it no way to run incubators and other lifesaving equipment. After days without refrigeration, morgue stuff dug a mass grave Tuesday for 120 bodies in the yard.
Amid the standoff, the hospital in the center of Gaza City became a focal point of clashing narratives about the war, now in its sixth week. Israel claims Hamas is using civilians as human shields, while Palestinians, rights group and international critics say Israel is recklessly harming civilians.
The Israeli military said early Wednesday that it raided specific areas of the sprawling Shifa complex, while trying to avoid harming civilians. The statement gave no further details.
Israel has long alleged that the militants conceal military assets in the facility and other hospitals, a claim denied by Hamas and medical staff.
Elsewhere, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Tuesday it had evacuated patients, doctors and displaced families from another Gaza City hospital, Al-Quds.
Israel vowed to end Hamas rule in Gaza after the Oct. 7 attack, which killed some 1,200 people and resulted in the taking of roughly 240 hostages. The Israeli government has acknowledged it doesn’t know what it would do with the territory long-term after Hamas’ defeat.
The Israeli onslaught has been disastrous for Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians.
More than 11,200 people, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah. About 2,700 people have been reported missing. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.
Almost the entire population of Gaza has squeezed into the southern two-thirds of the tiny territory, where conditions have been deteriorating as bombardment there continues. About 200,000 fled the north in recent days, the U.N. said Tuesday, though tens of thousands are believed to remain.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Tuesday that its fuel storage facility in Gaza was empty and that it would soon cease relief operations, including bringing limited supplies of food and medicine in from Egypt for the more than 600,000 people sheltering in U.N.-run schools and other facilities in the south.
“Without fuel, the humanitarian operation in Gaza is coming to an end. Many more people will suffer and will likely die,” said Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of UNRWA.
Israeli defense officials changed course early Wednesday to allow some 24,000 liters (6,340 gallons) of fuel in for humanitarian efforts, officials said. Earlier, they repeatedly rejected allowing fuel into Gaza saying Hamas would divert it for military use.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian affairs, said it would allow U.N. trucks to refill at the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border later Wednesday. It said the decision was in response to a request from the U.S.
PLIGHT OF HOSPITALS
Fighting has raged for days around the Shifa Hospital complex at the center of Gaza City, turning it “into a cemetery,” its director said in a statement.
The Health Ministry said 40 patients, including three babies, have died since Shifa’s emergency generator ran out of fuel Saturday. Another 36 babies are at risk of dying because there is no power for incubators, according to the ministry.
The Israeli military said it started an effort to transfer incubators to Shifa. But they would be useless without electricity, said Christian Lindmeier, a World Health Organization spokesman.
The Health Ministry has proposed evacuating the hospital with the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross and transferring the patients to hospitals in Egypt, but it has not received any response, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said.
While Israel says it is willing to allow staff and patients to evacuate, some Palestinians who have made it out say Israeli forces have fired at evacuees.
Israel says its claims of a Hamas command center in and beneath Shifa are based on intelligence, but it has not provided visual evidence to support them. Denying the claims, the Gaza Health Ministry says it has invited international organizations to investigate the facility.
The evacuation at the Al-Quds Hospital followed “more than 10 days of siege, during which medical and humanitarian supplies were prevented from reaching the hospital,” Palestinian Red Crescent officials said.
In a post on social media, they blamed the Israeli army for bombarding the hospital and firing at those inside.
The White House’s national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said the U.S. has unspecified intelligence that Hamas and other Palestinian militants use Shifa and other hospitals and tunnels underneath them to support military operations and hold hostages.
The intelligence is based on multiple sources, and the U.S. independently collected the information, a U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Kirby said the U.S. doesn’t support airstrikes on hospitals and does not want to see “a firefight in a hospital where innocent people” are trying to get care.
MARCH FOR HOSTAGES
Families and supporters of the around 240 people being held hostage by Hamas started a protest march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The plight of the hostages has dominated public discourse since the Oct. 7 attack, with solidarity protests held across the country. The marchers, who expect to reach Jerusalem on Saturday, say the government must do more to bring home their loved-ones.
“Where are you?” Shelly Shem Tov, whose 21-year-old son, Omer, is among the captives, called out to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We have no strength anymore. We have no strength. Bring back our children and our families home.”
BATTLE IN GAZA CITY
Independent accounts of the fighting in Gaza City have been nearly impossible to gather, as communications to the north have largely collapsed.
Inside some of the newly captured buildings, soldiers held up the Israeli flag and military flags in celebration. In a nationally televised news conference, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas had “lost control” of northern Gaza and that Israel made significant gains in Gaza City.
But asked about the time frame for the war, Gallant said: “We’re talking about long months, not a day or two.”
One Israeli commander in Gaza, identified only as Lt. Col. Gilad, said in a video that his forces found weapons and eliminated fighters in government buildings, schools and residential buildings.
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israeli forces have completed the takeover of Shati refugee camp, a densely built district bordering Gaza City’s center, and are moving about freely in the city as a whole.
Israel says it has killed several thousand fighters, including important mid-level commanders, while 46 of its own soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
Jeffery and Keath reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Amy Teibel in Jerusalem, Wafaa Shurafa in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip; and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.