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War on Gaza: Hundreds of bodies unearthed in Khan Younis hospital mass graves

Rescuers retrieve over 200 bodies, including those of children, elderly women and young men
Palestinian health workers dig for bodies buried by Israeli forces in the Nasser hospital compound in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 21 April 2024 (AFP)

The Palestinian civil defence on Sunday said it has found hundreds of bodies of Palestinians buried in mass graves by Israeli forces in the courtyard of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. 

At least 200 bodies had been retrieved from two mass graves in the medical compound as of Sunday noon local time. 

As the search continued, rescuers estimated there to be at least 400 bodies. 

The Gaza government media office said some of bodies found had been decapitated, and had their skin and organs removed.

According to Al Jazeera, the bodies of children, elderly women and young men were among those found. 

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Rescue teams said some bodies had their hands bound behind their backs, suggesting they were executed and buried on the spot. 

Middle East Eye could not independently verify the reported conditions of the bodies. 

As news of the mass graves spread, many people arrived at the hospital in the hope of finding members of their family who had gone missing. 

The mass graves were discovered weeks after Israeli troops ended a three-month invasion of  Khan Younis, during which ground forces repeatedly attacked Nasser hospital. 

The hospital, Gaza's second-largest and the "backbone" of the health system in southern Gaza, was put out of service after deadly Israeli raids in February, when 10,000 people had been sheltering at the medical complex. 

The army stormed the hospital twice following a weeks-long siege in January, during which 200 people were detained according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and hundreds of patients and displaced people sheltering in the building were forcibly removed

Medical staff reported being stripped naked, beaten and humiliated by Israeli forces, with many staff and patients targeted by sniper fire.

In March, the BBC released verified footage showing detained and kneeling people inside the complex following the raid. It also verified footage documenting 21 instances of fire targeting staff and patients during the siege.

Health officials said there was no power and not enough staff in the hospital to treat around 200 patients who remained there after the siege.

According to Palestinian health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra, the hospital's generators failed, cutting the water supply, while sewage flooded emergency rooms, making it impossible for the remaining staff to treat intensive care patients.

He added that a lack of oxygen supplies, also a result of no power, caused the deaths of at least seven patients. 

Israel said the hospital was housing Hamas fighters, a claim it has regularly made when attacking hospitals in Gaza despite not having produced any credible evidence of a military presence inside them.

More mass graves

This is not the first mass grave that has been unearthed at a medical facility in the Strip.

The discovery follows another earlier this month at al-Shifa Medical Complex in Gaza City, formerly Gaza's largest hospital, which was left in ruins after a two-week assault by Israeli forces in late March.

Several bodies were found on Monday in the hospital's courtyard, including at least one person wearing underwear who appeared to have been "executed recently", according to an Al Jazeera Arabic reporter at the scene. 

After Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital on 1 April, having destroyed most of the medical complex, teams from several government ministries were deployed to al-Shifa to remove and identify bodies.

The searches were initiated after survivors said they witnessed the summary execution of Palestinians by Israeli forces during the raid. 

Israeli military officials said that its forces had killed 200 people and arrested 900 during the 15-day assault on the hospital. Gaza's civil defence said that around 300 people had been killed. 

The army said it conducted its raid without harming civilians and medical personnel. Medical organisations and eyewitnesses strongly rejected that claim. 

Ahmad al-Maqadmeh, a Palestinian plastic surgeon, and his mother, Yusra al-Maqadmeh, a general practitioner, were among those killed

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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