Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes lie on the floor as they are assisted at the Indonesian hospital after Al Shifa hospital has gone out of service amid Israeli ground offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: REUTERS

GAZA STRIP: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Monday 12 people were killed in an Israeli strike on a hospital in northern Gaza.

Twelve people, included wounded patients and companions, “were killed and dozens wounded as a result of the Israeli occupation targeting the Indonesian Hospital”, said ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra.

Heavy fighting erupted on Monday around the hospital where thousands of patients and displaced people have been sheltering for weeks, as Israeli forces focus on clearing medical facilities that they say Hamas militants use for cover.

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There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The advance on the Indonesian Hospital came a day after the World Health Organisation evacuated 31 premature babies from Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the territory’s largest, where they were among more than 250 critically ill or wounded patients stranded there days after Israeli forces entered the compound.

The plight of Gaza’s hospitals is at the focus of a battle of narratives over the war’s brutal toll on Palestinian civilians, thousands of whom have been killed or buried in rubble since the six-week-old war was sparked by Hamas’ October 7 rampage into southern Israel.

Israel says Hamas uses civilians as human shields, while critics say Israel’s siege and relentless aerial bombardment amount to collective punishment of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians.

Marwan Abdullah, the medical worker at the Indonesian Hospital, said Israeli tanks were operating less than 200 meters (yards) from the hospital, and that Israeli snipers could be seen on the roofs of nearby buildings. As he spoke over the phone, the sound of gunfire could be heard in the background.

Abdullah said the hospital had received dozens of dead and wounded in airstrikes and shelling overnight. He said medical staff and displaced people fear Israel will besiege the hospital and force its evacuation.

Al Qudra, who is now based in southern Gaza, said some 600 patients, 200 healthcare workers and 2,000 displaced people were sheltering there.

Tunnel discovered

Over 250 patients with severely infected wounds and other urgent conditions remain in Al Shifa, which could no longer provide most treatment after it ran out of water, medical supplies and fuel for emergency generators amid a territory-wide blackout. Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside its gates for days before entering the facility last Wednesday.

Israel’s army said it had strong evidence supporting its claims that Hamas maintained a sprawling command post inside and under the hospital’s 20-acre complex, which includes several buildings, garages and a plaza.

The military released a video showing what it said was a tunnel discovered at the hospital, 55-meter (60-yard) long and about 10 meters (33 feet) below ground. It said the tunnel included a staircase and a firing hole that could be used by gunmen, and ended at a blast-proof door that troops have not yet opened.

The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify Israel’s findings, which included security camera video showing what the military said were two foreign hostages, one Thai and one Nepalese, who were captured by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack and taken to the hospital.

The army also said an investigation had determined that Israeli army Cpl. Noa Marciano, another captive whose body was recovered in Gaza, had been injured in an Israeli strike on Nov. 9 that killed her captor, but was then killed by a Hamas militant in Al Shifa.

Hamas and hospital staff have denied the allegations of a command post under Al Shifa. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed the latest announcement, saying “the Israelis said there was a command and control center, which means that the matter is greater than just a tunnel.”

Three in four people displaced

Israel has repeatedly ordered Palestinians to leave northern Gaza and seek refuge in the south, which has also been under aerial bombardment since the start of the war. Some 1.7 million people, nearly three quarters of Gaza’s population, have been displaced, with 900,000 packing into crowded UN-run shelters, according to the UN.

Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, said 70 people were killed and at least 52 wounded, including children, in strikes in the southern town of Khan Younis on Saturday. It said it was performing 10 burn surgeries a day at the town’s overwhelmed Nasser Hospital, where hundreds of people who need such surgeries must wait for care.