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Israel besieges two more Gaza hospitals, demands evacuations, Palestinians say

Cairo, Egypt

Israeli forces besieged two more Gaza hospitals on Sunday, pinning down medical teams under heavy gunfire, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, and Israel said it had captured 480 militants in continued clashes at Gaza’s main Al Shifa hospital.

Israel says hospitals in the Palestinian enclave, where war has been raging for over five months, are used by Hamas militants as bases. It has released videos and pictures supporting the claim.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 24th March, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

Hamas and medical staff deny the accusations.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its staff was killed when Israeli tanks suddenly pushed back into areas around Al-Amal and Nasser hospitals in the southern city of Khan Younis, amid heavy bombardment and gunfire.

Israeli forces began operating around Al-Amal, the military said, following “precise intelligence…which indicated that terrorists are using civilian infrastructure for terror activities in the area of Al-Amal.”

Israeli armoured forces sealed off Al-Amal Hospital and carried out extensive bulldozing operations in its vicinity, the Red Crescent said in a statement.

“All of our teams are in extreme danger at the moment and are completely immobilised,” it said.

The Red Crescent said Israeli forces were now demanding the complete evacuation of staff, patients and displaced people from Al Amal’s premises and were firing smoke bombs into the area to force out its occupants.

A displaced Palestinian was killed inside the hospital compound after being hit in the head by Israeli fire, the Red Crescent said in a later update.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said dozens of patients and medical staffers had been detained by Israeli forces at Al Shifa in Gaza City in the enclave’s north that has been under Israeli control for a week.

The Hamas-run government media office said Israeli forces had killed five Palestinian doctors during their seven-day-old swoop on Al Shifa.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that report. It said earlier that it had killed over 170 gunmen in the raid, which the Palestinian Health Ministry said had also caused the deaths of five patients.

Al Shifa is one of the few healthcare facilities even partially operational in north Gaza, and – like others – had also been housing some of the nearly 2 million civilians – over 80 per cent of Gaza’s population – displaced by the war.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 24th March, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

Air strike kills seven in Rafah
Reuters has been unable to access Gaza’s contested hospital areas and verify accounts by either side.

Khan Younis residents said Israeli forces had also advanced and formed a cordon around Nasser Hospital in the city’s west under cover of heavy air and ground fire.

In Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town on the Egyptian border that has become the last refuge for half of Gaza’s uprooted population, an Israeli air strike on a house killed seven people, health officials said.

At least 32,226 Palestinians have been killed, among them 84 in the past 24 hours, and 74,518 injured in Israel’s air and ground offensive into the densely populated coastal territory since 7th October, its health ministry said in a Sunday update.

Israel launched the offensive after Hamas-led Islamist militants attacked its south on 7th October, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

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Meanwhile, Israel signalled openness on Sunday to allowing the return of Palestinians displaced from the northern Gaza Strip as part of truce talks, an apparent accommodation of a core Hamas demand.

The warring sides have stepped up negotiations, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, on a six-week suspension of Israel’s offensive in return for the proposed release of 40 of the 130 hostages still held by the Palestinian militant group in Gaza.

Hamas has sought to parlay any deal into an end to the fighting and withdrawal of Israeli forces. Israel has ruled this out, saying it would eventually resume efforts to dismantle the governance and military capabilities of Hamas.

Hamas also wants hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled Gaza City and surrounding areas southward during the first stage of the almost six-month-old war to be allowed back north.

Israel initially refused to do so. But that position has softened, an Israeli official briefed on the Doha talks said.

“We are now willing to discuss a return of some of the displaced,” the official told Reuters, without elaborating on numbers. Israeli media have speculated that the offer would be limited to women and children, to bar gunmen trying to reinforce those the Israeli military is still battling in parts of Gaza City.

The official, who requested anonymity, said Israel has also agreed in principle to release between 700 and 800 Palestinian prisoners in return for the 40 hostages.

That appeared to meet a demand of a Hamas proposal, reported by Reuters on 15th March, for between 700 and 1,000 prisoners to be released.

The Israeli official cautioned, however, that any final decision would hinge on how many of the prisoners were senior militants serving long sentences for lethal attacks.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the backlog of aid destined for Gaza as a moral outrage during a visit to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday.

Speaking in Cairo on Sunday, Guterres said the only effective and efficient way to deliver heavy goods to meet Gaza’s humanitarian needs was by road.

The United States and other countries have tried using air drops and ships to deliver aid, but UN aid officials say deliveries can only be scaled up by land, accusing Israel of impeding relief, which Israel denies.


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