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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, Nov 15 — Gaza’s main hospital has been forced to bury dozens of dead patients in a mass grave, its director said Tuesday, while thousands of Palestinians were trapped inside by fierce combat.
As Israeli forces were at the gates of the Al-Shifa hospital, the pressure was high on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to secure the release of hostages being held by Hamas.
The families of those taken by Hamas demanded the government sign a deal “tonight” for the captives to be freed, as negotiations appeared to progress behind the scenes.
At Al-Shifa, Gaza’s biggest hospital, doctors said patients and people taking shelter were stranded in horrific conditions in the facility, which Israel says sits atop an underground Hamas command base — a charge denied by the militant group.
“There are bodies littered in the hospital complex and there is no longer electricity at the morgues,” said Al-Shifa hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya, adding that 179 bodies had been interred so far.
“We were forced to bury them in a mass grave,” he said, adding that seven babies and 29 intensive care patients were among those who had died after fuel for the hospital’s generator ran out.
A witness said the stench of decomposing bodies was everywhere in the Gaza City facility as bombardment and gunfire echoed constantly in the area.
The United Nations estimates that at least 2,300 people — patients, staff and displaced civilians — are inside and may be unable to escape because of fierce fighting from the facility where supplies are nearly exhausted.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in response to the attacks of October 7, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw 240 hostages being taken to Gaza.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says Israel’s relentless assault has killed 11,320 people, also mostly civilians, including thousands of children.
Israel’s military says 47 of its troops have been killed in Gaza.
Israeli forces were “forced to move against Hamas infrastructure in hospitals”, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a briefing.
After US President Joe Biden on Monday called for Israel to protect the facility, the White House said it agreed with Israel’s claim that Hamas has buried its operational centre under the Al-Shifa hospital.
Hamas and another Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, “operate a command and control node from Al-Shifa in Gaza City”, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, citing US intelligence sources.
“They have stored weapons there and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
The situation in Gaza’s other hospitals is also dire, with the UN saying 22 of 36 are not functional due to lack of generator fuel, damage and combat.
“The 14 hospitals remaining open have barely enough supplies to sustain critical and life-saving surgeries and provide inpatient care, including intensive care,” said the World Health Organization in the Palestinian Territories.
But the humanitarian crisis in the territory also includes the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled south at Israel’s urging to get away from the most intense fighting.
On Tuesday displaced Palestinians in the south woke up to yet another scourge: Rain, soaking their meagre belongings and threatening to bring waterborne diseases to their places of shelter.
“We are completely soaked, all of our clothes are soaked, our mattresses, our blankets too, even a dog could not live like this,” said Ayman al-Jueidi, who has set himself up in the courtyard of a UN school in Rafah at the southern extremity of the Gaza Strip.
Even escaping the fighting is dangerous and wounded Palestinians told AFP how they were hit by a strike on their way south.
“I walked around three to four kilometres (around two miles) while I was bleeding,” said Hasan Baker, whose head and left hand were bandaged. “There was no possibility for any ambulance to enter the area.”
Israeli leaders have so far insisted there will be no ceasefire until hostages are released, but Qatar is mediating talks on a possible deal to free captives.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, said Monday that Israel asked for the release of 100 hostages while the militants want 200 Palestinian children and 75 women freed from Israeli prisons.
“We informed the mediators we could release the hostages if we obtained five days of truce... and passage of aid to all of our people throughout the Gaza Strip, but the enemy is procrastinating,” Abu Obeida said in an audio statement.
Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed bin Mohammed Al-Ansari told a news conference in Doha that the “deteriorating” situation in Gaza was hampering efforts to find a deal.
“We believe that there is no other chance for both sides other than for this mediation to take place,” he said.
But Biden told reporters at the White House he thought an agreement would be agreed.
“I believe it’s going to happen but I don’t want to get into detail,” he said.
With pressure building on the Israeli government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “working relentlessly” to get the hostages out.
Relatives of the hostages set out Tuesday on a five-day protest march from Tel Aviv to the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem to call for the captives’ release, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said.
The families group later demanded the government “approve a deal tonight to bring home all hostages from Gaza”.
West Bank violence
The Israeli army said it had captured Gaza’s parliament, the government building, the police headquarters and other government institutions run by Hamas in Gaza City, as its forces deepened their offensive in the Palestinian territory.
The army also showed images of a discarded baby bottle, makeshift toilet and bullet-scarred motorbike as evidence Hamas held hostages in the basement of Al-Rantisi children’s hospital in Gaza City.
AFP was not able to independently confirm the allegation.
The Hamas health ministry described the Israeli video as “poor staging” with “not a single piece of evidence” backing the Israeli army claims.
The war in Gaza has also spurred violence on other fronts.
In the occupied West Bank, eight Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops, seven during an army raid on the northern city of Tulkarem and one near the southern city of Hebron, the Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday.
At least 180 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed across the West Bank since October 7, according to officials on both sides. — AFP
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