Israel’s warplanes and tanks are circling around the Gaza Strip’s hospitals as health facilities increasingly come under attack.
The assaults on hospital compounds affect not just thousands of patients but also an estimated 122,000 displaced Palestinians sheltering in those facilities during unrelenting bombing by Israel.
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On Friday, the threat to many of Gaza’s hospitals mounted further.
Here is how hospitals are being targeted:
Which hospitals have tanks surrounded?
Gaza’s Ministry of Health says Israeli tanks on Friday surrounded four hospitals from all directions. These are the al-Rantisi Hospital, al-Nasr Hospital, and the eye and mental health hospitals.
About 1,000 people are seeking shelter at al-Rantisi, the only hospital in Gaza that specialises in treating children with cancer. Israel has recently struck vehicles outside al-Rantisi, which is located in northern Gaza.
— 𓂆 Khalil in Gaza🇵🇸 (@khalilo1) November 10, 2023
A video surfaced on social media apparently shot by people inside the hospital that shows them unsure of whether to evacuate, given instances from this war of people fleeing from danger zones being bombed.
رسالة من داخل مستشفى الرنتيسي
— طوفان الأقصى (@Afcq1954) November 10, 2023
“Israel is turning its back to the international community and maintains its crimes against hospitals, health centres and shelter centres across the Gaza Strip,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a statement cited by the Wafa news agency.
What about al-Shifa Hospital?
The compound of al-Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip’s largest medical facility, was hit by an Israeli missile overnight, and it wasn’t a one-off strike.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said on Friday that Israel has bombed al-Shifa Hospital buildings five times since Thursday night.
The hospital has been a repeated Israeli target over the past month. World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Margaret Harris warned that the hospital is “coming under bombardment”.
“You can hear a lot of gunshots, and then you know that the tanks are getting near to al-Shifa Hospital,” Dr Ahmed Mokhallalati, an al-Shifa surgeon, told Al Jazeera.
Medical student Ezudine Lulu took to Instagram and warned in a video early Friday afternoon: “It is possible that the entire hospital will be bombed within hours.”
Al-Shifa is the most extensive hospital complex in the Gaza Strip. While al-Shifa has the capacity for 700 patients, it is currently treating about 5,000, according to Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF).
Israel alleged that Hamas is using al-Shifa for military purposes. Hamas has rejected these claims, saying al-Shifa shelters more than 40,000 displaced people in Gaza.
Over the past week, al-Shifa has been attacked multiple times with Israeli missiles hitting ambulances and the facility’s solar panels as an Israeli siege causes fuel shortages.
How are hospital functions impacted?
Several hospital departments have been targeted by Israel, compromising hospital functions and damaging buildings and equipment.
According to al-Qudra, Israel shelled the maternity department and outpatient clinics at al-Shifa this week.
Gaza is under a total blockade by Israel. Al-Shifa has been denied urgently needed supplies of medicines and fuel. Fuel shortages threaten the function of generators, which run vital equipment like ventilators and dialysis machines.
An unprecedented influx of wounded patients coupled with medical supplies that are rapidly running out leaves surgeons with no choice but to operate on patients on floors and without anaesthetics or pain relief.
“It is painful for the medical team. It is not simple. It is either the patient suffers pain or loses his life,” said Mohammad Abu Salmiya, director general of al-Shifa Hospital.
Both al-Rantisi and al-Shifa are located in northern Gaza. UN humanitarian office spokesperson Jens Laerke said the aid entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt cannot enter northern Gaza. He urged Israel to reopen the Karem Abu Salem crossing, known in Hebrew as the Kerem Shalom crossing, which sits at the junction of Gaza’s border with Egypt and Israel, to allow more aid through.
What has happened so far?
Twenty one of Gaza’s 35 hospitals with inpatient facilities have stopped functioning either due to damage from shelling and air strikes or from the lack of fuel, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.
Israeli strikes have targeted Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis and Al-Quds Hospital along with two centres of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Jabalia and Gaza City, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported. Gaza’s Health Ministry was also targeted.
On October 18, nearly 500 people were killed in an air attack on Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the blast was caused by an Israeli air raid. Israel attributed the explosion to a misfired rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad armed group.
What does international law say about attacking hospitals?
International humanitarian law based on the 1949 Geneva Conventions considers hospitals civilian objects that receive protection.
However, the 1977 Additional Protocols to the conventions outline some exceptions to this. Article 13 states that medical units shall lose their special protection if “used to commit, outside their humanitarian function, acts harmful to the enemy”. In such cases, it says, warnings and “a reasonable time limit” should be given before an attack.