Israeli forces storm main hospital in southern Gaza

The Israeli army stormed the main hospital in southern Gaza, seeking the remains of hostages taken by Hamas.

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World News

February 15, 2024 - 2:22 PM

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at the hospital Rafah, Gaza, Tuesday, Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces stormed the main hospital in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli fire killed a patient and wounded six others inside the complex. The Israeli army said it was a limited operation seeking the remains of hostages taken by Hamas.

The raid came a day after the army sought to evacuate thousands of displaced people who had taken shelter at Nasser Hospital in the city of Khan Younis, the focus of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in recent weeks. The war shows no sign of ending, and the risk of a broader conflict is growing as Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah step up attacks after a particularly deadly exchange on Wednesday.

The military said it had “credible intelligence” that Hamas had held hostages at the hospital and that the hostages’ remains might still be inside. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesperson, said forces were conducting a “precise and limited” operation there and would not forcibly evacuate medics or patients. Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian structures to shield its fighters.

A released hostage told The Associated Press last month that she and over two dozen other captives had been held in Nasser Hospital. International law prohibits the targeting of medical facilities, but they can lose those protections if they are used for military purposes.

The troops were searching several hospital buildings after ordering all medical staff and patients to move into an older building in the compound, said Shaban Tabash, a nurse at the hospital. Doctors were unable to provide treatment to the patients in the building, which was not properly equipped.

“The situation of patients is difficult,” Tabash told the AP.

Separately, Israel launched airstrikes into southern Lebanon for a second day after killing 10 civilians and three Hezbollah fighters on Wednesday in response to a rocket attack that killed an Israeli soldier and wounded several others.

It was the deadliest exchange of fire along the border since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Israel and Hezbollah — an ally of Hamas — have traded fire on a daily basis, raising the risks of a broader conflict.

Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s rocket attack. Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a senior member of the group, said it is “prepared for the possibility of expanding the war” and would meet “escalation with escalation, displacement with displacement, and destruction with destruction.”

Negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza, meanwhile, appear to have stalled, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and scores of hostages taken during the militants’ Oct. 7 attack.

SCENES OF PANIC IN HOSPITAL

Nasser Hospital has been the latest focus of Israeli military operations that have gutted Gaza’s health sector as it struggles to treat a constant stream of people wounded in daily bombardments. Israeli troops, tanks and snipers have surrounded the hospital for at least a week, with heavy fire all around it. Several people have been killed inside the compound in recent days, according to health officials.

Overnight, a strike slammed into one of the hospital’s wards, and video showed medics scrambling to wheel patients on stretchers down a corridor filled with smoke or dust. A medic used a cellphone flashlight to illuminate a darkened room where a wounded man screamed in pain as gunfire echoed outside. The AP could not authenticate the video but the footage was consistent with its reporting.

The strike killed one patient and wounded six others, all of whom were already being treated for previous wounds, Dr. Khaled Alserr, one of the remaining surgeons at Nasser Hospital, told the AP.

“The situation is escalating every hour and every minute,” he said.

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