Israeli officials said on Sunday they had offered fuel and evacuation assistance to Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, where operations were suspended Saturday amid dwindling fuel supplies and an alleged Israeli bombardment on the facility, the territory’s largest hospital. Health officials in Gaza deny receiving any assistance, while Israel denies besieging al-Shifa.
"We’ve called to evacuate all the patients from that hospital, and 100 or so have already been evacuated," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN.
"There’s no reason why we can’t just take the patients out of there rather than letting Hamas use it."
The day before, IDF spokesman rear admiral Daniel Hagari said hospital staff was working with the Israeli military to evacuate out babies in the facility in desperate need of care.
“We’re speaking directly and regularly with the hospital staff,” he said. “The staff of Shifa Hospital has requested that tomorrow we will help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital. We will provide the assistance needed.”
Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kaila, meanwhile, told Al Jazeera that the IDF is “not evacuating people from hospitals; instead they are forcibly evicting the wounded onto the streets, leaving them to face inevitable death”. A Gaza health ministry spokesperson told the broadcaster, “It is absolutely impossible to evacuate those wounded.”
Three babies in al-Shifa’s intensive care unit have already died amid the disruptions to care at the hospital, according to the Gaza ministry of health. Two died overnight between Friday and Saturday when generators shut down after a nearby shell strike, and a third died Saturday.
Dr Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a doctor at al-Shifa, told Reuters that medical staff, unable to incubate babies using normal equipment, have resorted to using a trickle of power to turn air conditioning systems to warm.
“We are expecting to lose more of them day by day,” he said.
Both Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the World Health Organisation said Sunday they had lost communications with their contacts inside al-Shifa.
“Over the past 48 hours, Al-Shifa Hospital – which is the largest medical complex in Gaza – has been reportedly attacked multiple times, leaving several people dead and many others injured.” the group wrote in statement. “The intensive care unit suffered damage from bombardment, while areas of the hospital where displaced people were sheltering have also been damaged. An intubated patient reportedly died when electricity was at one point cut.”
In a separate interview with NBC News, the Israeli leader described other alleged gestures of goodwill at al-Shifa, where thousands of Palestinians sheltered to escape fighting elsewhere in the densely occupied enclave.
“We offered actually, last night, to give them enough fuel to operate the hospital, operate the incubators and so on, because we have, obviously, no battle with patients or civilians at all,” he said.
“They refused it,” he added.
The Israeli military said it placed 300 litres of fuel at the entrace to al-Shifa, but that Hamas blocked the delivery.
"The occupation’s claims of refusing to receive 300 litres of diesel fuel are lies and slander, and all departments are closed due to running out of fuel, except for the emergency department,” Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director of al-Shifa, told Qatar’s Al Araby TV.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday morning it hadn’t confirmed any evacuations.
Those inside al-Shifa have said the hospital has been struck with Israeli gunfire and explosives. Israel denies targeting the hospital directly, which it alleges is being used in part as a Hamas command post. The militant group denies this.
“There are clashes between IDF troops and Hamas terrorist operatives around the hospital,” Colonel Moshe Tetro, an Israeli Defence Ministry official, said in a video statement on Saturday. “There is no shooting at the hospital and there is no siege.”
Palestinian officials have reportedly paused negotiations over releasing Israeli hostages because of the situation at al-Shifa, according to Reuters.
On Sunday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said al-Quds Hospital, Gaza’s second largest, was “no longer operational” because it was out of power. The group also said Israeli tanks and military vehicles surrounded the facility on Saturday.
An estimated 500 patients are inside the hospital.
“The hospital was left alone under relentless bombardment, which threatened the lives of patients and health workers,” PRC spokeperson Nebal Farsakh said in a video statement.
Dr Fadel Naim of al-Ahli Hospital said in a post on X his facility is the only functioning hopsital left in northern Gaza.
“The injuries continue to pour into Al-Ahli Hospital, as it remains the ONLY functioning hospital receiving casualties from #Gaza and its north,” he wrote. “Till now, hundreds of injuries have arrived, overwhelming the hospital’s capacity!”
“Currently, we are about to perform a surgery on a 20-year-old woman, five months pregnant, who was injured by shrapnel from a missile in her abdomen,” he wrote in another post. “Due to the absence of an obstetrician at the hospital, a general surgeon will conduct the operation.”
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he believed Israel’s claims that Hamas uses hospitals for military purposes, but said he hopes that fighting doesn’t occur at medical facilities.
“There is plenty of open source information to indicate that Hamas uses lots of different civilian institutions, including hospitals, to store weapons, for command and control, to house its fighters,” he told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.
“That being said, Jon, we do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, people seeking medical care, are caught in the crossfire,” he said.
The Biden administration official added the US has an “active” dialogue with Israel about protecting civilian lives.
In the last 36 days, 137 attacks against health infrastructure in Gaza have occured, killing 521 people, including 16 health workers, according to the WHO.
Striking hospitals during war is against international law, though there are exceptions for facilities being used to carry out acts “harmful to the enemy”.