Israeli raid on al-Shifa Hospital deepens suffering in Gaza’s north

Israel said Friday its raid on Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital was continuing for a fifth day, with the large-scale military operation provoking alarm among global health officials as well as residents in the enclave’s devastated north, who were hoping for a Ramadan cease-fire but were instead sheltering from the latest violence.

The Israeli military has cast the operation as advancing their goal of destroying Hamas, reporting that more than 150 people they said were terrorists have been killed and hundreds of suspects detained since the operation began. The claims could not immediately be verified.

Satellite images showed armored Israeli vehicles surrounding the hospital on several sides, and residents said the raid had introduced a new, destabilizing chapter of violence into northern Gaza at a time when people were already struggling to survive.

As aid groups have labored to transport food and other essential supplies into the north, an international body that determines food insecurity has called the likelihood of famine in the area “imminent.” And al-Shifa Hospital, once Gaza’s largest and most advanced medical facility, is now barely equipped after months of war and a previous Israeli raid to treat hundreds of patients that doctors said depend on them for care.

“Accessing al-Shifa is now impossible, and there are reports of health workers being arrested and detained,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, wrote on X on Thursday. The situation, he wrote, “could impact the hospital’s ability to function, even minimally, and deprive people of critical, lifesaving care.”

“We repeat once again: hospitals are not battlegrounds. They must be protected in line with international humanitarian law.”

The Israeli operation at al-Shifa is the latest in a string of attacks that have damaged or shut major hospitals, battering an overwhelmed health system, humanitarian groups say. The Israeli military says Hamas has used the facilities for military activities, a claim the militant group denies.

Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel’s chief of staff, who visited the hospital Wednesday, said the goal of the operation in Gaza was striking a blow to Hamas and “putting pressure on the negotiations,” referring to ongoing talks aimed at securing a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

But the operation — more than six months into the war — recalled the intense fighting of the conflict’s early weeks and highlighted both the ability of Hamas fighters to regroup as well as the challenges Israel faced in meeting its own stated war goals.

The Israeli military, which has said it was “preventing harm to civilians, patients” and medical teams, said Friday that over the “past days, the forces eliminated more than 150 terrorists in the area of the hospital, apprehended hundreds of suspects and located weapons and terror infrastructure.” Hamas in recent days has posted videos from the area, showing militants attacking Israeli troops.

Israel said Monday that the raid on al-Shifa had killed Faiq Mabhouh, who the Israeli military identified as a senior official with Hamas’s internal security division and the coordinator of the group’s militant activities across Gaza.

Hamas said that Mabhouh was the director of police operations who coordinated and protected aid deliveries. The Post could not immediately confirm his role. Police officers, who were civil servants under Hamas’s prewar government, played a key role guarding international aid convoys until last month, when Israel began targeting them.

In interviews with The Post, a doctor and residents said people had been forced to shelter in the hospital’s wards or in their homes, fearing they would be shot or arrested if they ventured out. Meanwhile, food and water were prevented from reaching the area.

“The situation is catastrophic,” Osama Al-Ashi, a resident of the al-Rimal neighborhood, near the hospital, said in a voice message Thursday. The clashes of recent days had subsided for the moment, he said. But his family and neighbors who had been sheltering in his house had taken to crawling from room to room to avoid the windows. Everyone was sleeping in the kitchen, he said.

“We can barely lift our heads,” he said.

But they could hear weapons, “all kinds,” including warplanes and armed drones. Buildings had been felled by airstrikes, sending up plumes of smoke. “My wife is pregnant, and this causes me great fear,” he said. “I do not know what to expect, or what to do.” He had considered fleeing south, “but the intensity of the strikes and fire prevented us from moving,” he said. Late Friday, his family was finally able to flee, he said.

Mahmoud Bassel, a spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defense, said in a message that at least seven houses around al-Shifa had been targeted, killing civilians.

The Israeli assault on the hospital started early Monday, said Amr Fawzi Jedbah, a 31-year old vascular surgeon. “We heard an explosion, a weird one. We looked out of the window to see what happened and saw tanks around the hospital,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. Within minutes after Israeli forces arrived, a representative from the military told people there that “they have conquered al-Shifa and everyone is under arrest.”

The military started interrogating displaced people sheltering in the hospital and then the doctors, using facial recognition. Staff members were detained or told to leave, Jedbah said. He was instructed to go home but pleaded with an Arabic-speaking officer to stay, saying he was the only vascular surgeon in Gaza, with many patients in the hospital.

“I told him that since you came, there is no food or drink and electricity and water are shut off,” he said. “He told me that will find a solution with the higher command.”

After the detentions and evacuations of hundreds of patients, 150 to 200 patients who could not walk remained with a handful of doctors, Jedbah said. At least nine patients — including two in the intensive care unit — died from lack of treatment, he said. Jedbah added that he did not know what happened to colleagues and others who were detained.

He said he was not able to confirm allegations by Hamas that dozens of civilians had been executed, saying he avoided looking out the windows for fear of being shot. He said he did not know why Israeli forces raided the facility.

“We were all civilians here, and this is a hospital,” he said. “We are doctors; our job is to treat people.”

A 37-year-old resident of the area named Kareem, who lived a few hundred yards away from the hospital, said he and his family were asleep Monday when the raid got underway with “booms and strikes.” “We didn’t realize they would raid al-Shifa again,” he said. Kareem spoke on the condition that only his first name be used for fear of retribution.

Early the next morning, they were able to escape, heading north and then east. “I don’t know if my house is still there, damaged or destroyed,” he said. “This is not life. This is not something we can handle.”

During the holy month of Ramadan — a time of fasting, and evening gatherings to break the fast — “suddenly we are displaced again,” he said. “I have my wife and three children with me, struggling to find food every day.”

Hazem Balousha and Jonathan Baran contributed to this report.

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