WHO concerned about al-Shifa chief detained by Israel, remaining patients

Israel says the hospital director is being questioned as the WHO voices fears over the safety of dozens who are still in the facility.

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Muhammad Abu Salmiya, the director of al-Shifa Hospital, remains in Israeli custody [Hamas media office via AFP]

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about the fate of the head of Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, who was detained by Israel this week.

The WHO said in a statement on Friday that the director of the biggest hospital in the besieged Palestinian territory had been arrested on Wednesday along with five other health workers, while they were taking part in a United Nations mission to evacuate patients.

“Three medical personnel from the Palestine Red Crescent Society and three from the Ministry of Health were detained,” the WHO said.

Since then, two of the six have reportedly been released, but “we do not have information about the well-being of the four remaining health staff, including the director of Al-Shifa hospital,” the statement added.

The UN agency called for “their legal and human rights to be fully observed during their detention”.

A spokesperson for the Israeli army said on Saturday that Abu Salmiya was being questioned.

“We are currently moving forward with … questioning him over the fact that he was the head of a hospital that was really sitting on top of an entire terror network,” Israeli military spokesperson Doron Spielman said.

“How could he not know what’s happening? We have hostages that were on, you know, CCTV in his hospital.”

The Israeli army, which raided the hospital last week, has alleged that Hamas fighters used a tunnel complex beneath al-Shifa as a command centre – an assertion Hamas and hospital officials have repeatedly denied. Israel has not provided any evidence to back up its claim.

Concern for remaining patients

Abu Salmiya has frequently been quoted by international media about the conditions inside al-Shifa, a major focus of the Israeli air raids and ground offensive following attacks by Hamas fighters on October 7.

A week ago, the Israeli army ordered an evacuation of al-Shifa, which had housed 7,000 people including patients and displaced Palestinians. But dozens of patients who could not be moved remained inside with a handful of medics.

The WHO has carried out three evacuation missions to the hospital in the space of a week, the organisation said, on one occasion managing to transfer 31 babies from the hospital.

During the third mission on Wednesday, which was carried out in cooperation with the Palestine Red Crescent, 151 people were evacuated, including patients, their relatives and healthcare workers, according to the WHO.

A WHO spokesperson said on Friday that the UN agency was working on further evacuations from northern Gaza hospitals as soon as possible as a truce gets under way, voicing fears for the safety of those remaining in al-Shifa Hospital.

“We’re extremely concerned about the safety of the estimated 100 patients and health workers remaining at al-Shifa,” said WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier.

He declined to react to comments from the Gaza health ministry saying it was suspending cooperation with the global health agency amid reports that Israel is holding medical staff for questioning.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies