A Palestinian woman holds a child as they mourn their relatives killed in Israeli bombardment in front of the morgue of the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Image Credit: AFP

RAFAH: Palestinians who fled an ongoing Israeli raid in and around Gaza’s main hospital described days of heavy fighting, mass arrests and forced marches past dead bodies in interviews on Sunday.

Israel’s military says it has killed over 170 militants and detained about 480 suspects in the raid on Al Shifa Hospital that began on Monday, calling it a heavy blow to Hamas and other armed groups it says had regrouped in the compound.

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The fighting also highlights the resilience of Palestinian armed groups in a heavily destroyed part of Gaza where Israeli troops have been forced to return after a similar raid in the earliest weeks of the war.

Kareem Ayman Hathat, who lived in a five-story building about 100 meters (yards) from the hospital, said he huddled in the kitchen for days while gunfire and explosions sometimes caused the building to shake.

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Early Saturday, Israeli troops stormed the building and forced dozens of residents to leave. He said men were forced to strip to their underwear and four were detained. The rest were blindfolded and ordered to follow a tank south as blasts thundered around them.

“From time to time, the tank would fire a shell,” he told The Associated Press from another hospital where he has sought shelter. “It was to terrorize us.”

The head of Israel’s southern command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, has called the Shifa raid a “daring, tricky and most impressive operation,” saying it will end “when the last terrorist is in our hands, alive or dead.”

Israeli jets on Sunday launched several strikes near the hospital.

Al Shifa Hospital had largely stopped functioning following the November raid. After claiming that Hamas maintained an elaborate command center inside and beneath the hospital, Israeli forces exposed a single tunnel leading to a few underground rooms. They also said they found weapons in parts of the hospital.

Moral outrage

Gaza City, where Shifa is located, suffered widespread devastation in the early days of Israel’s offensive, launched after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that triggered the war . Israeli forces have isolated northern Gaza since November, and hardly any aid has been delivered in recent weeks.

Experts said last week that famine is imminent in northern Gaza, where over 210,000 people are suffering from catastrophic hunger.

A day after standing near some of the estimated 7,000 aid trucks waiting to enter Gaza and calling the starvation a “moral outrage,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Egypt called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire along with the release of hostages held in Gaza. “Looking at Gaza, it almost appears that the four horsemen of war, famine, conquest and death are galloping across it,” he said.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said five wounded Palestinians trapped at Shifa Hospital had died without food, water or medical services.

The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described conditions as “utterly inhumane.”

Jameel Al Ayoubi, among thousands of people sheltering at Shifa when the current raid began, said in a phone interview that tanks and armoured bulldozers had plowed into the hospital courtyard, crushing ambulances and civilian vehicles. He saw tanks driving over at least four bodies of people killed early in the raid.

Israel’s military said on Saturday it had evacuated patients and medical staff from Shifa’s emergency department because militants “entrenched” themselves in the building. It said it set up an alternative site for seriously wounded patients.

Abed Radwan, who lived about 200 meters (yards) from the hospital, said Israeli forces stormed all area buildings, detaining several people and forcing the rest to march south. As he walked, he saw bodies in the streets and several flattened homes.

“They left nothing intact,” he said from a relative’s house in central Gaza.