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War on Gaza: Civilians trapped as Israeli forces besiege al-Shifa hospital

Besieged Palestinians describe harsh conditions under Israeli siege as the largest medical facility in Gaza is facing intense attacks
Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on 18 March 2024 (AFP)
Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on 18 March 2024 (AFP)
By Maha Hussaini in Gaza, occupied Palestine

Civilians living in the vicinity of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City say they have been besieged "from every angle" by Israeli forces over the past two days. 

On Monday, Israeli forces killed 50 Palestinians and detained 180 others during an overnight raid on the facility - the enclave's largest medical complex.

Around 30,000 Palestinians are currently under siege inside the hospital, where they have sought refuge. Many of them had been forced out of their homes from the Shati refugee camp and the Rimal neighbourhood, which sit at either side of the complex. 

The military launched the raid, with tanks advancing towards the hospital as they shelled it, just as people were about to have their pre-dawn Ramadan meal before starting the day's fast.

Rawia al-Batrikhi, a 29-year-old civilian, told Middle East Eye that she is trapped with about 30 other people in a room in a nursery next to al-Shifa hospital.

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"Tanks are here, just outside the room, and there has been constant gunfire and shelling for the past two days," she said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning.

'We cannot lift our heads, we cannot speak loudly, we can hardly breathe. I'm whispering as I speak to you so the [Israeli soldiers] do not notice that we are here'

Rawia al-Batrikhi, trapped near al-Shifa

"We are besieged from every angle, not knowing whether to go out or stay in." 

Batrikhi added that everyone is lying on the ground, trying to protect themselves from Israeli fire.

"We cannot lift our heads, we cannot speak loudly, we can hardly breathe. I'm whispering as I speak to you so the [Israeli soldiers] do not notice that we are here."

Rawia's husband, Mohammed, said they have no water left at the nursery, and they are drinking Coke instead of water.

He added that they are observing Ramadan but the only food they have to break their fast is zaatar (thyme) and bread, which will run out within a day.

"Today is the last day we will have bread. When it runs out, we will not be able to make more because there is no water. We do not know how long this situation will continue," he said.

'Catastrophic' situation

The situation in al-Shifa hospital had already been described as “catastrophic” before the latest raid. 

Recent Israeli attacks on nearby areas, including al-Rashid Street, Salah al-Din Street, and Kuwait Roundabout, where 118 people were killed and hundreds of others wounded as they waited for aid last week, have increased the number of displaced Palestinians at al-Shifa.

The hospital has been completely put out of service following months of Israeli attacks. It has little to no medicine or equipment, and currently relies on trainee doctors. 

The Israeli military on Tuesday said it has so far killed 50 Palestinians and detained 180 people during al-Shifa raid. It claimed that those killed were fighters, and those arrested were suspected members of Hamas. The army, however, did not provide any evidence to support those claims.

Al-Shifa and its surrounds have been raided at least four times since the start of the war on 7 October, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of operating inside hospitals - a charge which the Palestinian group has consistently denied. 

Hamas said in a statement on Tuesday: "The continued Israeli aggression against al-Shifa Hospital is an attempt to cover up its failure to achieve its military goals." 

The goal behind the latest raid remains unclear. It came at the same time as an Israeli delegation was expected to arrive in Qatar to review a Hamas ceasefire proposal. 

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Qatar's foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari said on Tuesday that while a Gaza ceasefire deal was not yet close, there was cautious optimism an agreement would be reached. 

He said Israel's Mossad chief David Barnea had left Doha but technical talks were still ongoing. 

Ansari added that an Israeli ground operation in the southern city of Rafah would lead to major destruction and "atrocities" that have not been seen during the conflict.

Israeli forces killed at least 93 Palestinians and wounded 142 more over the past 24 hours in nine "massacres", according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

This brings the Palestinian death toll in over five months to more than 31,819, with over 73,934 wounded and an estimated 8,000 missing, believed to be dead and buried under rubble.

More than 70 percent of the victims are children and women, according to health officials.

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