Gaza hospitals caught in the crossfire amid Israel-Hamas war, which has targeted them on both sides for various reasons.
Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals as cover for its fighters, alleging that Hamas has set up its main command center in and beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, without providing visual evidence.
Hamas denies the allegations and says that Israel is targeting the hospital and other medical facilities to inflict the maximum number of civilian casualties.
The United States, which supports Israel’s right to self-defense, has urged caution and warned against firefights in hospitals.
Both sides have used the condition of hospitals as a metaphor of the bigger conflict, which is now in its sixth week as Israeli soldiers battle in the heart of Gaza metropolis, the territory's largest metropolis.
The battle was launched by Hamas' Oct. 7 surprise onslaught into Israel, whose reaction has resulted to thousands of dead — and considerable devastation — throughout Gaza.
Israel claims, without giving proof, that Hamas has established its primary command center in and under Gaza's biggest hospital, Shifa, in order to hide its militants. Employees at both Shifa Hospital and Hamas have denied the Israeli accusations.
On Monday, the military released footage from a children's hospital where its forces had moved over the weekend, claiming to have found weapons and rooms in the basement where the militants were holding some of the approximately 240 hostages they had taken during the initial attack.
Hamas uses hospitals as an instrument of war.- Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the army’s chief spokesperson
The fighting was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack into Israel, whose response has led to thousands of deaths — and much destruction — across Gaza.
With Israeli forces fighting in the center of Gaza City, the territory’s main city, both sides have seized on the plight of hospitals as a symbol of the larger war, now in its sixth week.
Tens of thousands of people have fled the hospital in the past few days and headed to the southern Gaza Strip, including large numbers of displaced people who had taken shelter there, as well as patients who could move. For Palestinians, Shifa and the other hospitals in the combat zone evoke the suffering of civilians.
U.N. monitors said Tuesday that only one hospital in northern Gaza is still operating, with the others forced to shut down because of nearby fighting and the lack of fuel, power, water and medicine.
For weeks, Shifa staff members running low on supplies have performed surgery on war-wounded patients, including children, without anesthesia.
After the weekend’s mass exodus, about 650 patients and 500 staff remain in the hospital, which can no longer function, along with around 2,500 displaced Palestinians sheltering inside with little food or water.
After power for Shifa’s incubators went out days ago, the Health Ministry in Gaza on Monday released a photo it says shows about 20 newborns lying on a single bed, wrapped in blankets.
Israel flag near destroyed hospital building
The Health Ministry in Gaza reports that the war has claimed the lives of more than 11,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, as of last Friday. It does not distinguish between civilians and fighters among the dead. About 2,700 people are still unaccounted for.
The ministry has not updated the numbers, saying it is hard to gather information.
On the Israeli side, the death toll is at least 1,200, mainly civilians who were killed in the first Hamas attack. Hamas is holding around 240 hostages, including children, women, men and elderly people, who were captured in the raid. The army says 44 soldiers have died in the ground operations in Gaza.
About a quarter of a million Israelis have left their homes near Gaza, where rockets from Palestinian militants continue to rain down, and along the northern border, where there is frequent exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah, a militant group from Lebanon. This happened again on Monday.
The war between Israel and Hamas has put Gaza’s hospitals in the crossfire, endangering the lives of patients, staff and civilians.
Israel says that Hamas is using the hospitals as shields and weapons, while Hamas says that Israel is targeting the hospitals to kill civilians.
The United States has called for an immediate ceasefire and a humanitarian corridor to allow access to the hospital and other medical facilities.
The United Nations has warned that the situation in Gaza is “unbearable” and that the hospital is “on the verge of collapse”.