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UPDATED: Attacks on or near Gaza hospitals ‘unconscionable, reprehensible and must stop’: Relief chief

Al Shifa hospital is being used as shelter for displaced families in Gaza.
Al Shifa hospital is being used as shelter for displaced families in Gaza.

UPDATED: Attacks on or near Gaza hospitals ‘unconscionable, reprehensible and must stop’: Relief chief

Peace and Security

Senior UN officials said on Saturday there could be no justification for any “acts of war” in or around any healthcare facilities, amidst reports that Gaza’s largest hospital has come under attack by Israeli forces as they battle Palestinian militants.

In a statement, the Israeli military denied that it had targeted Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which they claim is above a Hamas command post, but have acknowledged that fighting is happening “around” the facility.

UN relief and humanitarian affairs chief, Martin Griffiths, tweeted that in light of "horrific reports of attacks", there could be "no justification for acts of war in healthcare facilities leaving them with no power, food or water and shooting at patients and civilians trying to flee.

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“This is unconscionable, reprehensible and must stop.

"Hospitals much be places of greater safety and those who need them must trust that they are places of shelter and not of war.”

Grave concern: Tedros

Tweeting later in the day, the head of the UN health agency Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO's regional agency had lost contact with its contacts at Al-Shifa.

"There are reports that some of those who fled the hospital have been shot at, wounded, or killed. The latest reports say the hospital was surrounded by tanks", he wrote.

"WHO is gravely concerned about the safety of health workers, hundreds of sick and injured patients, including babies on life support, and displaced people who remain inside the hospital."

WHO again called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza "as the only way to save lives and reduce the horrific levels of suffering", Tedros added.

"WHO also calls for the sustained, orderly, unimpeded and safe medical evacuations of critically injured and sick patients.   All hostages must receive appropriate medical care and be released unconditionally."

Principle of proportionality

The UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings, reinforced the call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, stressing that civilian infrastructure “cannot be used for military operations.”

“Patients, medical staff as well as displaced people taking shelter must be protected”, she tweeted.

“Principles of proportionality, distinction must be respected.”

News reports quoting a non-governmental organisation representing doctors, said that two premature babies have died in the last few hours at Al-Shifa, after the last working generator was damaged during airstrikes.

The hospital has reportedly now run out of water, food and electricity.

Latest figures from OCHA, sourcing the health ministry in Gaza – which the UN regards as reliable – report that more than 10,800 have been killed in the enclave since the 7 October attacks and more than 26,900 injured.

Israel on Friday revised the number of fatalities stemming from the Hamas terror attacks down to 1,200.

Lives 'hanging by a thread'

Earlier on Saturday, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said that the “near total breakdown and attacks on medical and healthcare services”, particularly in northern Gaza, had left lives “hanging by a thread.”

Noting that medical care at the Al-Rantisi and Al-Nasr children’s hospitals in the Strip had “reportedly almost ceased” they said only a small generator remained to power the intensive care unit.

“Children’s right to life and health is being denied,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Director. “The protection of hospitals and delivery of lifesaving medical supplies is an obligation under the laws of war, and both are needed now.”

Meanwhile, medical facilities in the middle and southern areas of the Gaza Strip, already overwhelmed by the sheer number of injuries that need treatment, are now having to also cope with treating the needs of an influx of hundreds of thousands of people into even more densely packed spaces, UNICEF noted.

“These existing services must be supported and strengthened to deal with the increasing challenges they face”, the agency said.

Children's lives are "hanging by a thread" said Mr. Khodr. Children in the north have "nowhere to go and are extreme risk."