Israeli soldiers stand outside Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Gaza Strip: Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza’s largest hospital Al Shifa on Friday, the Hamas-run health ministry said, on the first day of a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian militants.

The Israeli military raided Al Shifa last week, targeting what it said was a Hamas command centre in a tunnel complex beneath the medical facility. The Palestinian militant group and hospital officials have repeatedly denied the claim.

Al Shifa has been a major focus of Israel’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip following attacks by Hamas across southern Israel on October 7, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

Since the Israeli raid, many of the estimated 2,300 patients, staff and displaced civilians sheltering in the Al Shifa complex have been evacuated to the south of the Gaza Strip.

But the World Health Organisation was “extremely concerned” about the safety of the estimated 100 patients and health workers remaining at Al Shifa, spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

Hamas health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra, said the Israeli military had withdrawn but the people remaining at Al Shifa were in a battered complex whose “main generator is destroyed along with numerous buildings”.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

“We’re working on further evacuations from hospitals as soon as possible,” said Lindmeier, with recent Israeli operations focusing on the Indonesian Hospital, another medical facility in northern Gaza.

Lindmeier said the latest evacuation convoy had left Al Shifa with “73 severely ill or injured patients” including some in need of critical care.

On Thursday, Israeli forces arrested Al Shifa director Mohammad Abu Salmiya, who has been frequently quoted by international media about conditions inside the complex.

Israeli soldiers escorted journalists to a tunnel shaft they said was part of an underground network used by Hamas.

Al Shifa hospital has been the scene of an extended Israeli special forces operation as part of its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas-run government says nearly 15,000 people have been killed, most of them women and children.

On Friday, a four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war began, with hostages set to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

“We hope that this humanitarian pause leads to a longer term humanitarian ceasefire for the benefit of the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA.