Staff at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital have buried dozens of patients in a mass grave, hospital officials say, as thousands of Palestinians remain trapped in the facility surrounded by Israeli forces.
“There are bodies littered in the hospital complex, and there is no longer electricity at the morgues,” al-Shifa Hospital Director Mohammad Abu Salmiya told the AFP news agency on Tuesday. “We were forced to bury them in a mass grave.”
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He said 179 bodies had been interred so far in the courtyard and seven babies and 29 intensive care patients were among those who have died since fuel for the hospital’s generator ran out on Saturday.
Israeli forces have surrounded the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital, which Israel says sits atop a complex of tunnels and a command centre used by fighters from the armed wing of the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs Gaza.
Hamas has denied fighters are present and said 650 patients and 5,000 to 7,000 displaced civilians are trapped inside the hospital grounds and under constant fire from snipers and drones.
The United States said it “has information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them to conceal and support their military operations and to hold hostages,” according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.
He said members of the two Palestinian groups “operate a command and control node from al-Shifa in Gaza City” and store weapons there.
Kirby presented no evidence to back up the claims, which echo allegations made, also without evidence, by Israel.
“To be clear, we do not support striking a hospital from the air. We do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care they deserve,” Kirby said.
The United Nations estimated that at least 2,300 people – patients, staff and displaced civilians – are inside and may be unable to escape amid fierce fighting.
The deteriorating conditions at hospitals in Gaza has been a source of tension between Israel and its allies during Israel’s assault and siege on Gaza, which has cut off access to fuel.
On Monday, US President Joe Biden said he hoped to see “less intrusive action relative to hospitals”.
The United Nations said 22 of 36 hospitals in Gaza are not functional due to lack of generator fuel, damage and combat.
“The 14 hospitals remaining open have barely enough supplies to sustain critical and lifesaving surgeries and provide inpatient care, including intensive care,” said the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Palestinian Territories.
Gaza Ministry of Health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said on Tuesday that an Israeli offer to move babies out of al-Shifa Hospital with portable incubators has not resulted in a concrete plan.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said moving sick and vulnerable patients out of the hospital was an “impossible task”.
“And again, why would you need to move them?” she asked. “A hospital should never be under attack. A hospital is a place of safe haven. This is agreed under international humanitarian law.”
Israel has denied that the hospital is under siege and said it is giving people inside the hospital routes to escape. Medical workers and health officials in the hospital have rejected the claim and said Israeli fire has brought additional danger to the performance of their medical duties.
“The occupation is still besieging the hospital, and they are firing into the yards from time to time,” al-Qudra said. “We still can’t move around, but sometimes doctors are taking the risk when they need to attend to patients.”
Israel has bombarded Gaza and launched a ground offensive after Hamas fighters from the territory carried out an attack on southern Israel last month, killing more than 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
The Israeli assault has killed more than 11,200 people, including more than 4,600 children, according to Palestinian officials.