Despair in Gaza City hospitals encircled by fighting

The Israeli military says troops are in the heart of Gaza City, battling Hamas (Ismail Zanoun)
The Israeli military says troops are in the heart of Gaza City, battling Hamas (Ismail Zanoun)

At Gaza's largest hospital, a sheltering Palestinian said Friday he felt "under siege" as the facility was encircled by fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants.

"We need help from the international community, people are dying here due to lack of treatment," said Atef, who has taken refuge at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, surrounded by patients on trolleys.

The hospital was hit earlier on Friday by an Israeli strike, the facility's director and Gaza's Hamas government said, with the latter giving a death toll of 13.

The Israeli military has denied bombing hospitals.

Gaza resident Hanane, whose wounded daughter is being treated at Shifa, said that with each explosion his "daughter starts shaking".

The girl "was wounded in the bombing of a queue outside a bakery", Hanane said, wondering aloud about how join the rest of her family who have fled to the south where the fighting is less intense.

In the courtyard of Shifa hospital, the boom of explosions echoed around Mohammed Rihane as he walked on crutches for his injured leg.

"People are dying, torn to shreds in the streets and we can't go and look for them," he said, while moving around the city remains incredibly dangerous.

The Israeli military says its troops are in the heart of Gaza City, battling Hamas, which it says uses hospitals "as command and control centres and hideouts", a tactic denied by the group.

- Seeking refuge -

Faced with the advance of Israeli troops and bombardments, tens of thousands of residents in Gaza have sought refuge in hospitals across the city, which was home to nearly 600,000 people before the war.

The fighting is also encroaching on other Gaza City hospitals, witnesses and Hamas government officials told AFP.

At Al-Rantisi hospital, a distraught young girl said "Israeli tanks are besieging us from all sides".

"We were asked to immediately leave the hospital, but there's neither the Red Cross nor anyone who can guarantee the safe exit of civilians," she said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli snipers fired on Al-Quds hospital on Friday, killing one person and wounding 28 others, the majority children.

The Israeli military told AFP it would not comment on the attack because it could "compromise the troops".

Israel's campaign has killed over 11,000 people across the Gaza Strip, the majority of them civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The war erupted when Hamas gunmen stormed across the border from Gaza into southern Israel in an unprecedented attack that killed around 1,200 people, according to an updated toll from Israeli officials.

- 'Can't evacuate -

After five weeks of war, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned Friday that Gaza's health system had "reached a point of no return", putting the lives of thousands of patients and medics at risk.

Rantisi hospital had been forced to cease operations, the ICRC said, while Al-Nasser hospital was among those heavily damaged.

"The rules of war are clear. Hospitals are specially protected facilities under international humanitarian law," the organisation said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to remain in northern parts of the Palestinian territory, including Gaza City, while overall the United Nations says almost 1.6 million people have been displaced by the war.

At Shifa, director Mohammad Abu Salmiya said "all the hospitals of Gaza City were targeted" by the Israeli military.

"We didn't expect to see hospitals bombed in 2023. We can't evacuate, because we have more than 60 patients in intensive care, more than 50 babies in incubators, more than 500 patients on dialysis," he said, looking visibly exhausted in his blue scrubs.