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Israeli tanks on Monday reached the gates of Gaza City’s largest hospital, Al Shifa, where at least 650 patients were reportedly trapped inside as Hamas terrorists and Israel’s army traded deadly fire around it.
Israel has said the Palestinian terror group is using the medical facility to hide its command post in the spiderweb of tunnels below — turning the site into public enemy No. 1 for the Israelis as they try to take control of northern Gaza.
The development came as Hamas leaders claimed Monday that all hospitals in northern Gaza have ceased operating because of fuel shortages and the raging battles around them.
At Gaza City’s second-largest medical facility, Al Quds Hospital, “approximately 21 terrorists” were killed when they “embedded” themselves within a group of civilians at the entrance of the facility, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.
The IDF released accompanying video of suspected Hamas terrorists carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher outside the hospital.
As for Al Shifa, “The tanks are in front of the hospital,” said Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a surgeon there. “We are under full blockade.
“Only hospital facility, hospital patients, doctors and other civilians staying in the hospital,” he claimed. “Someone should stop this.”
While Hamas has denied hiding its key war room under the site, a US official said Monday that a terrorist command “node” is present beneath the hospital and has been using fuel intended to help patients, CNN reported.
After conflict erupted outside the hospital over the weekend, Al Shifa lost power, leading to the deaths of three newborn babies and threatening the well-being of other infants in incubators, staff there said.
Mokhallalati said the situation had only gotten worse Monday.
“We are hardly surviving,” he said. “We tell everyone, the hospital is no more a safe place for treating patients. We are harming patients by keeping them here.”
Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry claimed Israel had snipers and drones around the hospital, making it impossible for medics and patients to move around the building.
“We are besieged and are inside a circle of death,” a rep for the health ministry said.
On Sunday, Israel agreed to create evacuation routes for patients and refugees fleeing Al Shifa, as well as the Rantisi and Nasser hospitals.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “100 or so” people had been evacuated from Al Shifa on Sunday, and after outcry over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, suggested he would tap former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as “humanitarian coordinator” for the Palestinian enclave.
Blair, who worked as a Middle East peace envoy for the United Nations between 2007 and 2015, has been vocal about stepping in to help in Gaza.
Israeli officials said offers to evacuate babies from Al Shifa’s neonatal ward and to deliver emergency fuel to the hospital have been rejected by Hamas.
But Ashraf al-Qidra, a representative for the Hama health ministry, denied at least part of Israel’s claim, saying the 300 liters of fuel offered wouldn’t be enough to power the generators for more than an hour.
The Al Quds Hospital has also found itself inoperable and surrounded by violence.
The Palestinian Red Crescent, which runs the site, said a convoy sent to help patients and staff evacuate Monday was forced to turn back during Israel’s bombardments in the area and heavy gunfire between the IDF and terrorists.
Israel’s army said in a statement, “RPG fire and small arms fire were directed at the soldiers from the direction of the Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City.
“The shooting was carried out by a terrorist squad that had embedded itself within a group of civilians at the entrance of the hospital.”
US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that it was clear terrorists were stationed at the Gaza City medical facilities.
“You can see even from open-source reporting that Hamas does use hospitals, along with a lot of other civilian facilities, for command-and-control, for storing weapons, for housing its fighters,” Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union.”
“Without getting into this specific hospital or that specific claim, this is Hamas’ track record, both historically and in this conflict,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military says it has killed several more top Hamas leaders, according to CNN.
Allegedly slain were Yaqoub Ashour, who Israel said was the head of the anti-tank unit in the Khan Younis brigade; Muhammad Khamis Dababesh, who previously served as head of intelligence for Hamas’ armed wing but was currently working in its political tier, and other high ranking-members of Hamas’s military wing, al-Qassam Brigades.
With Post wires