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Witnesses describe fear and deprivation in the besieged hospital in Gaza

Seven days after the Israeli military began a raid on the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, a fragmented picture is emerging of the ongoing assault on the complex and the surrounding neighborhood.

Nearby residents described a relentless daily soundtrack of gunfire, airstrikes and explosions. A surgeon spoke of doctors and patients being housed in the emergency room while Israeli forces took control of the complex outside. A Palestinian teenager who spent four days in the hospital described the bodies piled up outside the entrance.

“They had laid the bodies on their sides and thrown blankets over them,” said Alaa Abu Al-Kaaf, 18, who said she and her family had been in Al-Shifa for days before leaving on Thursday. It was not immediately clear when or how the bodies were brought there.

Interviews with other witnesses at the hospital, residents in or near the facility and Gaza authorities in recent days, as well as others who left the complex in the past week, described a situation of fear and deprivation, interrogations and detentions Palestinian men at the hands of Israeli forces and a persistent lack of food and water.

The attack on Al-Shifa, one of Israel’s longest hospital raids during Gaza’s war, began Monday with tanks, bulldozers and airstrikes. The military said it was aimed at senior officials of Hamas, the armed group that led an attack on southern Israel on October 7. In response to this attack, Israel launched a war against Gaza with intensive air strikes and a ground offensive.

A week after the raid began in Al-Shifa, communication with residents and those around the sprawling hospital complex has been almost completely disrupted. Many of the 30,000 Palestinians who had sought refuge in Al-Shifa, according to Gaza’s health ministry, were again displaced by the crackdown.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip said at least 13 patients died as a result of the crackdown because they were deprived of medicines and treatment or because their ventilators stopped working after the Israelis cut off power. These claims could not be verified.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that patients were still in critical condition in Al-Shifa and maggots had begun to infect wounds.

The Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, posted a report on social media on Friday from a doctor in Al-Shifa, according to a United Nations colleague.

Two patients on life support died due to a lack of electricity, and there were no medications or basic medical care, he wrote. Many patients in critical condition were lying on the floor.

In one building, 50 medical staff and more than 140 patients have been held since the second day of the raid, with extremely limited food, water and a non-functioning toilet, Dr. Tedros.

“Healthcare workers are concerned about their own safety and that of their patients” Dr. Tedros wrote. “These conditions are absolutely inhumane. We call for an immediate end to the siege and demand safe access to ensure patients receive the care they need.”

Dr. Tayseer al-Tanna, 54, a vascular surgeon, said he finally escaped the Al-Shifa complex on Thursday after hearing gunfire for days outside the ward where he was stationed. Dr. Al-Tanna said Israeli forces had gathered doctors and patients in the complex’s emergency room while they swept the area outside.

“The Israeli military did not treat us violently,” said Dr. Al Tanna. “But we had almost no food and water during the raid,” he added.

He declined to comment on whether Palestinian fighters had fortified themselves at the medical complex.

The media office of the territory’s Hamas-led government said in a statement on Saturday that the Israeli military threatened medical staff and those housed therein to either leave the hospital – and risk being interrogated, tortured or executed – or leave the hospital The military would bomb and destroy the buildings above their heads. The media office said it was in contact with people inside the complex.

The Israeli military did not address specific questions about whether it had threatened people inside the medical complex. But on Saturday it said it was operating in the area of ​​the hospital “while avoiding harm to civilians, patients, medical teams and medical equipment.”

The military said it killed more than 170 militants and detained and interrogated more than 800 people in the hospital area.

The New York Times was unable to verify the information provided by Hamas or the Israeli military.

Israel has long accused Hamas of using Al-Shifa and other Gaza hospitals as command centers and hiding weapons in underground tunnels beneath, a claim the Palestinian armed group and hospital administrators have previously denied.

In a statement on Sunday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces were “besieging” two other hospitals in the southern city of Khan Younis, Al-Amal and Nasser.

The Israeli military targeted Al-Amal with smoke bombs and military vehicles barricaded the compound’s entrances, the Red Crescent said.

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry said an Israeli attack on Nasser Hospital was “violent and bloody” and accused the military of trying to disable all hospitals in Gaza.

The Israeli military said in a statement on Sunday that it had launched an operation in the Al-Amal district of Khan Younis overnight. An Israeli military spokesman declined further comment when asked whether Israeli troops were currently surrounding Al-Amal and Nasser hospitals.

In statements about the Al-Shifa raid, Hamas confirmed that its fighters were involved in clashes with Israeli forces near the hospital. In a statement on Saturday, Hamas said members of its Qassam Brigades fired mortar shells at Israeli forces near Al-Shifa.

Ms. Al-Kaaf and other Palestinians who left the complex last week also described scenes of groups of men being detained, stripped and interrogated by Israeli soldiers. Women and children were separated from the men, Ms. Al-Kaaf said, and others – including hospital medical staff, doctors and nurses – were held sitting on the floor in a large pit. Some were blindfolded and handcuffed.

The Israeli military said that “individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities” will be arrested and questioned in accordance with international law and released if it is “proven that they are not involved in terrorist activities.” It continues: “It is often necessary for terror suspects to surrender their clothing so that their clothing can be searched and to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weapons.”

For those in the al-Rimal district, which surrounds Al-Shifa, the hospital siege has left residents trapped in their homes. Several said snipers fired into surrounding streets; Residents feared they would be dragged from their homes, stripped and interrogated by Israeli forces, as dozens have experienced over the past week.

“The situation is really bad,” said Mohammed Haddad, 25, who lives about a half-mile from the hospital. “We haven’t been able to go out and exercise for more than five days. We couldn’t get water or food. And it is Ramadan,” he said, referring to the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Air strikes and random cannon fire hit and destroyed several houses in the immediate neighborhood, Mr. Haddad said.

“There are snipers, shelling, surveillance drones and armed drones,” he added. The buzz of a drone could be heard as he spoke on the phone.

Israeli forces appeared to destroy the entire area, he said, “not just the hospital.”

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad And Aaron Boxerman contributed to reporting.

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