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War on Gaza: Israeli troops withdraw from al-Shifa hospital, leaving piles of dead bodies

Two week siege of Gaza's largest medical complex ends in destruction of all buildings and hundreds of deaths
Palestinians gather to identify loved ones and survey the damage after Israel withdrew from al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza on 1 April 2024 (MEE/Mohammed al-Hajjar)
By Mohammed al-Hajjar in Gaza, occupied Palestine and Rayhan Uddin in London and Nader Durgham in Beirut

Israel's army has withdrawn from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza following a two week siege, leaving in its wake destroyed buildings and piles of dead bodies.

The complex - the largest medical facility in all of Palestine - was left in complete ruins. Military officials said on Monday that its forces killed 200 people and arrested 900 during its 15-day military assault on the hospital. Gaza's civil defence put the figure of those killed at around 300.

The army said it conducted its raid without harming civilians and medical personnel, but medical organisations and eyewitnesses have strongly rejected the claim.

The World Health Organisation said at least 21 patients died during the siege. Survivors told Middle East Eye that scores of civilians were killed during the fortnight-long siege.

"People were shot at and attacked. We are civilians," a young man said. "The scene was worse than an earthquake."

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"There were no doctors. Some of them were killed, some of them got arrested. Those who survived, survived. Those who died, died. Fifteen days of siege in al-Shifa with nothing, no food, no water." 

'There were no doctors. Some of them were killed, some of them got arrested. Those who survived, survived. Those who died, died'

- al-Shifa witness

The structure of the complex was damaged in every building, with destroyed equipment and paperwork strewn everywhere. 

At the special surgery unit, one of the newest buildings in the hospital, all that remained was piles of rocks and metal.

Among the units destroyed were the kidney and maternity buildings, the morgues, refrigeration facilities, as well as the outpatient clinics building.

Scores of dead bodies, including of children, women and the elderly, filled the streets near the complex. Medical sources said hundreds of bodies were found.

"My son, my son, my beloved son!" a woman screamed out, weeping as she held her dead son wrapped under white sheets.

Medical staff executed

Gaza's civil defence arrived at the hospital on Monday to begin a recovery operation following Israel's withdrawal.

Outside in the courtyard, people dug graves to bury those killed whose bodies were left to rot over the past two weeks. 

Wafa news agency reported that a temporary cemetery that had been set up in al-Shifa was dug up by Israeli forces, with bodies exhumed and dumped in different areas of the hospital.

Hospital buildings were set on fire by Israeli forces during the raid, and civil defence teams were not allowed to put them out, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS). 

al shifa hospital damage
Palestinians inspect the damage outside Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital on 1 April 2024 (AFP)

"The situation is dire, the medical staff, some of them were killed, others tortured, others detained," Raed al-Nims, a spokesperson for PRCS, told Al-Jazeera. 

"According to eyewitness accounts and official reports, many of the civilians were executed. They were killed by the Israeli forces including medical staff, doctors and nurses, they were purposefully executed by the Israeli soldiers.

"We do not have final figures yet, but there is no doubt that it is confirmed that many were killed either directly by the Israeli forces or starved to death."

Al-Shifa hospital and surrounding areas completely destroyed

Drag the button to see the devastation

Last week, Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said those arrested at al-Shifa were "very important Hamas officials". 

Israel has yet to provide any evidence of those claims. Hagari said Israel was not revealing the identities of those arrested "because they hold significant intelligence".

He said that more would be revealed once Israel had interrogated those detained.

'Where is the UN?'

MEE spoke to several people at al-Shifa whose loved ones were killed or wounded during the siege. 

Mohammed Garageh said his mother died on the second day of the siege. 

'We took the white flag and went out... and they shot him. Why? Why would they shoot him?"

- Faten Mohammed Dabbour, Gaza

He said that men and women were seperated after Israeli forces entered the hospital, leaving his eldery and sick mother without his help. 

"She spoke to me [on the phone] telling me 'My son, I do not have any medication, nor do I have any food or water, where are you my love?' That was the last thing I heard from my mother."

He found her the next day, lying dead in the maternity building of al-Shifa. He recognised her from her hair and clothes.

"This whole time, I was living with only her. Now she has left me and I am on my own."

Bassel Helo said his family members were sheltering at a neighbour's house in the vicinity of the hospital, when a drone strike hit the building. Seven people were killed.

"Corpses were starting to melt," Helo said, explaining that it took seven days for anyone to reach the building to bury the dead bodies.

Faten Mohammed Dabbour, an elderly woman, said her grandson was shot during the siege. 

War on Gaza: One Palestinian woman's journey through death and destruction
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"We took the white flag and went out... and they shot him. Why? Why would they shoot him?" she told MEE.

"I told the soldier 'I need medical help, why did you do this?' and he looked at me as if nothing happened." 

Dabbour said that during the siege, a 95-year-old woman was praying when her house was bombed by Israeli forces, killing those inside.

She asked where the United Nations and international community were, referring to last week's UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire.

"Where is the UN? The US supposedly did not use the veto - where are they? Or do they just give [Israel] weapons to kill us with?

"Only God protects us, not Saudi Arabia, not Egypt."

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