Israel launches another raid on Gaza's main hospital

Israeli forces launched another raid on the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital early Monday, saying Hamas militants had regrouped there and had fired on them from inside the compound, where Palestinian officials say tens of thousands of people have been sheltering. In a separate development, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, accused Israel of continuing to hinder efforts to deliver aid to Gaza, saying the territory faces an “entirely man-made” famine as “starvation is used as a weapon of war”.

The army last raided Shifa Hospital in November after claiming that Hamas maintained an elaborate command centre within and beneath the facility. The military revealed a tunnel leading to some underground rooms, as well as weapons it said were found inside the hospital. But the evidence fell short of the earlier claims, and critics accused the army of recklessly endangering the lives of civilians.

People sheltering in the hospital said Israeli forces backed by tanks and artillery had surrounded the medical complex and that snipers were shooting at people inside. They said the army raided a number of buildings and detained dozens of people.

“We’re trapped inside,” said Abdel-Hady Sayed, who has been sheltering in the medical facility for over three months. “They fire at anything moving. … Doctors and ambulances can’t move.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the Israeli army was directing gun and missile fire at a building used for specialised surgeries. It said a fire broke out at the hospital’s gate.

The ministry said around 30,000 people are sheltering at the hospital, including patients, medical staff and people who have fled their homes seeking safety.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief Israeli military spokesperson, said the army launched a “high-precision operation” in parts of the medical complex. He said senior Hamas militants had regrouped there and were directing attacks from the compound.

The army released a grainy aerial video of what it said were militants firing on its forces from inside the hospital, as well as video of a rocket-propelled grenade striking an armoured vehicle. It said its forces had detained around 80 people.

Hagari said the patients and medical staff could remain in the medical complex and that a safe passage was available for civilians who wanted to leave.

HOSPITALS OUT OF SERVICE AS TOLL MOUNTS

Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian facilities to shield its fighters, and the Israeli military has raided several hospitals since the start of the war, which was triggered by Hamas’ October 7 attack into southern Israel.

Most of Gaza’s medical facilities have been forced to shut down for lack of fuel and medical supplies, even as scores of people are killed and wounded each day in Israeli strikes.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Monday that at least 31,726 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including 81 in the past 24 hours. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people in the surprise attack out of Gaza that triggered the war, and took another 250 people hostage. Hamas is still believed to be holding about 100 captives, as well as the remains of 30 others, after most of the rest were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker another cease-fire and hostage release, but the gulf between the two sides remains wide, with Hamas demanding guarantees for an end to the war and Israel vowing to continue the offensive until it destroys the militant group.

Israel’s offensive has driven most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes and the U.N. says a quarter of the population is starving.

HARSH CONDEMNATION FROM EU DIPLOMAT

Northern Gaza, including Gaza City, was the first target of the invasion and suffered widespread destruction. The military said late last year that it had dismantled most of Hamas’ military infrastructure in the north and withdrew thousands of forces, but sporadic fighting has continued.

The north is the epicentre of Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe, with many residents reduced to eating animal feed. At least 20 people, mostly children, have died from malnutrition and dehydration in the north, the Health Ministry said earlier this month.

Airdrops by the US and other nations continue, while deliveries on a new sea route have begun, but aid groups say it’s essential that Israel open up more ground routes and ease restrictions to meet the mounting humanitarian needs.

“We are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people,” EU foreign policy chief Borrell said at an international aid conference in Brussels. “Starvation is used as a weapon of war.”

He went on to call for greater efficiency at the two functioning border crossings and for Israel to open additional ones.

“Israel has to do it. It is not a question of logistics. It is not because the United Nations has not provided enough support,” he said. “The support is there, waiting. Trucks are stopped. People are dying, while the land crossings are artificially closed.”

Israeli authorities say they place no limits on the entry of aid and accuse U.N. bodies of failing to distribute it in a timely manner, saying aid piles up on the Gaza side of the crossings. Aid groups say distribution is impossible in much of Gaza because of ongoing hostilities, the difficulty of coordinating with the military and the breakdown of law and order.

The international aid group Oxfam said Sunday that a “dysfunctional and undersized inspection system” snarls the entry of aid, with trucks stranded in long lines for 20 days on average The group says it has an entire warehouse filled with goods that were rejected, including oxygen, incubators and water and sanitation gear.

“Israeli authorities are not only failing to facilitate the international aid effort but are actively hindering it,” said Oxfam Mideast director Sally Abi Khalil.

Harry Byrne

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