An Israeli air strike on an ambulance convoy near the al-Shifa Hospital in the besieged Gaza Strip has killed 15 people and wounded 60 others, according to health officials and aid workers.
A convoy of ambulances was transporting critically wounded patients from the Al-Shifa Hospital to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt when it was targeted in an Israeli attack, Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for the Health Ministry said on Friday.
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“We informed the Red Cross and the Red Crescent (PRCS), we informed the whole world, that those victims were lined up in those ambulances,” he said.
“This was a medical convoy.”
The PRCS condemned the targeting of the ambulance convoy – four of which belonged to the health ministry and one to the PRCS.
In a statement, the PRCS said the convoy left Al-Shifa Hospital at 16:05 local time but was forced to return after travelling for about 4km due to rocks and a large amount of shelling on al-Rashid, Gaza’s coastal road heading south. At about 1km from Al-Shifa Hospital, one of the ambulances belonging to the health ministry was “directly targeted” by a missile not more than a kilometre from the hospital, resulting in the injuries of the ambulance crew and patients inside, according to the PRCS.
The other vehicles continued their journey towards Gaza’s largest medical facility but the PRCS ambulance was struck by an Israeli missile at about two metres from the hospital gate. The attack killed 15 people and wounded 60, the PRCS said.
“The deliberate targeting of medical teams constitutes a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions, a war crime”, it added.
Palestinian photographer Abdul Hakim Abu Reyash describes the scene at al-Shifa Hospital in the besieged Gaza Strip following a deadly Israeli air strike. pic.twitter.com/YyCphWK03Z
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) November 3, 2023
Palestinian photographer Abdul Hakim Abu Reyash said there were a lot of people and vendors outside al-Shifa Hospital at the time of the air attack, resulting in the killing of “a lot of civilians”.
He added that the injured in the ambulances were mainly women.
The Israeli military confirmed that one of its aircraft hit an ambulance, saying Israeli soldiers assessed it was being used by a Hamas unit close to their position in the battle zone.
It said that Hamas uses ambulances to transport fighters and weapons – without providing evidence to support the claims – and added that a number of Hamas fighters were killed in the attack.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “utterly shocked” by reports of an attack on ambulances evacuating patients.
“We reiterate, patients, health workers, facilities, and ambulances must be protected at all times, always,” Tedros said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The largest hospital in Gaza, al-Shifa is facing severe overcrowding, with a bed occupancy rate of 164 percent, according to the WHO, amid Israel’s continuing bombardment and blockade of the territory.
At least 16 hospitals across Gaza are no longer functioning due to damage from bombing and a lack of fuel, the health ministry said.
The WHO warned on Wednesday that the fuel shortage “immediately risks the lives” of the wounded and other patients.
More than 9,200 people have been killed and 32,000 others wounded in Gaza since Israel launched a bombardment of the territory on October 7, according to Palestinian authorities.
The Israeli assault on Gaza came after Hamas fighters killed at least 1,405 people, mostly civilians, in an attack on southern Israel, according to Israeli officials.