Newborns are placed in bed after being taken off incubators in Gaza's Al Shifa hospital after power outage, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City on November 12, 2023. Image Credit: via REUTERS

GAZA STRIP: The hospitals in the centre of the heaviest north Gaza fighting have been forced out of service amid shortages and combat, the Hamas-run health ministry said on Monday, adding the number of patients dying in the biggest medical centre had risen.

Israel argues that its Hamas enemies have built their military headquarters in tunnels beneath the Al Shifa hospital complex, while UN agencies and doctors inside the facility warned the effects of the raging battles were claiming the lives of civilians including infants.

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As witnesses reported more “violent fighting”, overnight aerial bombardments and the clatter of gunfire echoed across the sprawling Al Shifa hospital at the heart of the Gaza City, now an urban war zone.

The Hamas government’s deputy health minister Youssuf Abu Rish said six premature babies had died in the hospital, Gaza’s biggest, along with nine other patients in intensive care due to the lack of electricity.

Abu Rish told AFP all hospitals in the north of the embattled territory were “out of service”.

The World Health Organisation in the Palestinian Territories warned that up to 3,000 patients and staff are sheltering inside without adequate fuel, water or food, after the UN’s humanitarian agency said previously that 20 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals have been disabled.

“Regrettably, the hospital is not functioning as a hospital anymore,” said WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, after contacting on-the-ground staff inside the Al Shifa complex.

“It’s been three days without electricity, without water,” he said, describing the plight of those trapped inside as “dire and perilous”.

The Israeli army pushed on with their campaign, determined to destroy the Islamist movement whose gunmen it says killed at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages in the country’s worst ever attack.

But Israel is facing intense international pressure to minimise civilian suffering amid its massive air and ground operation, which that Hamas authorities say have killed 11,180 people, including 4,609 children.

Israel said 44 of its troops have been killed in the Gaza offensive.

Flags flew at half-mast at United Nations compounds across Asia on Monday, as staff observed a minute’s silence in memory of colleagues killed in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict.

‘Maximum restraint’

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Israel to show “maximum restraint” while condemning Hamas for using “hospitals and civilians as human shields”.

The Israel Defence Forces on Monday reported more heavy fighting and again stressed its claim that Hamas was hiding in civilian infrastructure.

“IDF troops are continuing to conduct raids... targeting terrorist infrastructure located in central governmental institutions in the heart of the civilian population, including schools, universities, mosques and residences of terrorists,” it said.

Israeli forces had entered Gaza’s Abu Bakr mosque and found “a large number of explosive devices and flammable materials” as well as weapons, military equipment and Hamas operational plans, it said.

In another operation, “IDF ground troops entered the residence of a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist and located a large number of weapons inside the kids’ room of the residence”.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out calls for a ceasefire, saying Hamas must first release the hostages.

Israelis are still stunned by the October 7 attack and preoccupied with the fate of those missing.

A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute showed many Israelis support talks with Hamas to secure the release of hostages, but believe fighting should not be halted.

Netanyahu told US media that “there could be” a deal to free the hostages, but stopped short of providing any details, adding that “the less I say about it, the more I’ll increase the chances that it materialises”.

An Israeli soldier walks towards a building structure carrying gallon containers, as they say, while delivering fuel to Al Shifa hospital, in a location given as Gaza, in this screengrab taken from a handout video released on November 12, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC there has been “active negotiation” on a potential deal but kept mum on any details.

A Palestinian official in Gaza speaking on condition of anonymity accused Israel of dragging its feet.

“Netanyahu is responsible for the delay and obstacles in reaching a preliminary agreement on the release of several prisoners,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

International concern

International attention has focused on the plight of Palestinians, and protests have been held worldwide in solidarity with the 2.4 million under bombardment and siege for more than five weeks.

Only a few hundred trucks carrying humanitarian aid had been let into Gaza since October 7, with Israel concerned fuel deliveries would be used by Hamas militants.

Almost 1.6 million people — about two-thirds of Gaza’s population — have been internally displaced since October 7, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.

Across Gaza City at the Al Quds hospital the picture was also said to be dire, with the Palestinian Red Crescent warning it was now out of service due to a lack of generator fuel.

Tens of thousands of Gazans have already fled from the north of the territory under Israeli orders.

But it is unclear what, if any, provisions there would be for the sick and injured to be transported from Al-Shifa.

Israel’s military said it would observe a “self-evacuation corridor” Monday, allowing people to move from Al Shifa southward, but admitted the area was still the scene of “intense battles”.

The area of fighting “currently includes the area surrounding Al Shifa hospital but not the hospital itself”, a spokesperson for IDF told AFP.

The Israeli army also said its ground soldiers had hand-delivered 300 litres (80 gallons) of fuel near the hospital “for urgent medical purposes”.

The military shared grainy night-time footage of combat troops hauling jerry cans, leaving a dozen or more outside a building.

AFP was unable to independently verify the video or Israel’s claim that Hamas “forbade the hospital from taking it”.

Al Shifa director Mohammad Abu Salmiya told journalists the Israeli claims were “lies” and said that, at any rate, 300 litres would power generators for “no more than quarter of an hour”.