‘We are minutes away from death’: Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital under attack

Palestinian health officials say babies in incubators are fighting for their lives as Israel lays siege to the hospital compound.

Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at Al Shifa hospital
Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at al-Shifa Hospital [File: Doaa Rouqa/Reuters]

Israel’s military has brought the war to the front gates of al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s biggest hospital complex, where thousands of injured and displaced people are trapped amid ferocious bombardment.

“We are minutes away from imminent death,” Muhammad Abu Salmiya, al-Shifa Hospital’s director, told Al Jazeera from inside the besieged facility on Saturday, where operations had to be suspended after it ran out of power and fuel.

Abu Salmiya said al-Shifa’s buildings are being targeted and any person moving within the hospital compound is being attacked by Israeli snipers.

“One member of a medical crew who tried to reach the incubator to lend a helping hand to the babies born inside was shot and killed,” he said. “We lost a baby in the incubator, we also lost a young man in the intensive care unit.”

Gaza Deputy Health Minister Youssef Abu al-Reesh, who is currently inside al-Shifa Hospital, told Al Jazeera that all generators and power sources were off.

“We have 39 newborns in the incubators, those babies are fighting against death.”

“Ferocious gunfire can be heard within the vicinity of the hospital, the intensive care unit received a mortar shell a few minutes ago … Blood is everywhere on the floor; we cannot even clean it,” he added.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, confirmed the situation, saying people were being shot at as they tried to exit al-Shifa Hospital.

“At the time of writing, our staff are witnessing people being shot at as they attempt to flee the” hospital, MSF said on X.

The Israeli army rejected the claims, saying reports of al-Shifa Hospital being surrounded by Israeli tanks were false.

Meanwhile, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Israeli tanks were just 20 metres (65 feet) away from al-Quds Hospital.

“Direct shooting at the hospital, and there is state of extreme panic and fear among the displaced,” it posted on X.

Describing the situation around al-Quds Hospital as “extremely dangerous”, PRCS said there is also “artillery shelling and intense shooting at the hospital”.

It reported injuries among the displaced, but the exact number is still unknown. More than 14,000 Palestinians are sheltering inside the hospital, PRCS said.

‘War crime’

Located in the northern Rimal neighbourhood, close to the port, al-Shifa became a hospital in 1946, undergoing successive expansions. The facility has become a lifeline for people seeking urgent medical intervention.

Thousands of people who have lost their homes in Israel’s continuing bombardment are also living in the hospital corridors and courtyard.

Israel claims al-Shifa provides cover for a Hamas command centre, an accusation the hospital’s director has rejected as “utter lies”. Hamas also rejects the claims.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, who is visiting the region, has said any armed group that uses civilian infrastructure to shield itself is contravening the laws of war. However, he added: “But such conduct by Palestinian armed groups does not absolve Israel of its obligation to ensure that civilians are spared … Failure to do so is also in contravention of the laws of war – with devastating impact on civilians.”

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic correspondent James Bays noted that none of the doctors or staff at al-Shifa has reported seeing Hamas members in the hospital for years.


‘We cannot bury our dead’

MSF supplied al-Shifa with the medicines and equipment that it still has in its stock. Early on Saturday, the NGO posted on X that it was unable to contact its staff inside the hospital and was “extremely concerned” about the patients and medics.

Fabrizio Carboni, the Red Cross’s regional director for Near and Middle East, said the information coming out of al-Shifa was “distressing”, adding that the thousands of people in the compound “need to be protected in line with the laws of war”.

Speaking from inside the hospital on Saturday, Monir al-Bashr, also a deputy health minister in Gaza, said that people were being forced to dig with their hands to bury bodies within the hospital compound.

“We are surrounded, we cannot bury our dead. We are going to create a mass grave within the hospital compound,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We do not have any equipment or machinery to dig the grave. We have to bury these bodies otherwise epidemics will break out. These bodies have been lying on the street for days.”

As the fighting intensifies just by the front gate of the hospital, for Abu Salmiya, the hospital’s director, the outlook is bleak.

“We are totally cut off from the whole world … We are stranded, we sent many SOS to the whole world – there has been no response.”

Source: Al Jazeera