Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza declared ‘death zone’ by WHO amid ongoing conflict

New Delhi, Nov 19: The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City a “death zone” following a visit to the facility by a joint UN team led by the WHO.

The hospital, once the largest and most advanced in Gaza, has been heavily impacted by recent Israeli military actions, with evidence of shelling and gunfire observed during the visit.

The UN team, which gained access to the hospital for one hour yesterday, after its evacuation by the Israeli military, reported a distressing scene. A mass grave at the hospital’s entrance allegedly holds the remains of 80 people. Israel describes its actions as a “targeted operation against Hamas,” but as of now, it has not presented substantial evidence supporting its claims.

WHO, accessed Al-Shifa Hospital to evaluate the situation in coordination with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). The deteriorating conditions at Al-Shifa Hospital are exacerbated by a lack of essential resources over the past six weeks, rendering it essentially non-functional.

The UN team observed severe issues with waste management, corridors and grounds filled with medical and solid waste, posing an increased risk of infection. Patients and staff, terrified for their safety and health, pleaded for evacuation.

With 25 health workers and 291 patients remaining, the hospital is no longer admitting new patients. Several deaths occurred over the previous 2 to 3 days due to the shutdown of medical services, including 32 babies in critical condition, patients in intensive care without ventilation, and compromised dialysis patients. The hospital is grappling with a surge in trauma cases, infected wounds, and a lack of antibiotics.

In response to the critical situation, WHO and partners are urgently developing plans to evacuate remaining patients, staff, and their families. Over the next 24–72 hours, pending safe passage guarantees, additional missions will transport patients from Al-Shifa to other facilities. However, these hospitals are already strained, further stressing health staff and resources.

WHO emphasizes deep concern for the safety and health needs of patients, health workers, and internally displaced people in the few remaining partially functional hospitals in the north.

These hospitals face closure due to a lack of vital resources and intense hostilities.

WHO reiterates its plea for collective efforts to end hostilities, calling for an immediate ceasefire, sustained humanitarian assistance, unhindered access, unconditional release of hostages, and an end to attacks on healthcare and vital infrastructure. The dire situation demands an immediate and concrete humanitarian response. Immediate efforts are urged to restore functionality and provide urgently needed health services in Gaza.

Earlier, the IDF had issued evacuation orders to the remaining 2500 internally displaced people who had been seeking refuge on the hospital grounds. They, along with a number of mobile patients and hospital staff, had a vacated the facility by the time of the WHO team’s arrival. The Israeli military says its troops found weapons including Kalashnikov rifles when they raised the al-Shifa site last week

UN Condemns Attack on Shelter in Gaza

United Nations officials have strongly condemned an attack on a UN school Al-Fakhoura in Gaza that was serving as a shelter for displaced individuals. Israel has stated that it is investigating the claims related to the incident. Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), expressed shock at the “horrifying images and footage of scores of people killed and injured” in one of the agency’s schools, which was providing shelter for thousands of displaced individuals.

Lazzarini emphasized that such attacks cannot become commonplace and must be halted. Meanwhile, the Gaza health ministry reported that over 30 members of the same family were killed in Jabalia, attributing the incident to an Israeli strike. The Israel Defence Forces did not immediately comment on the report but announced an expansion of operations in Gaza, including in Jabalia, targeting Hamas.

In response to the escalating conflict, Israel has urged Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate for their safety and has now extended the evacuation orders to the southern city of Khan Younis, where many displaced individuals from northern Gaza have sought refuge.

Israel asserts that its objective is to eliminate Hamas, citing the group’s attack on Israel on October 7, resulting in 1,200 deaths and over 240 people taken hostage. The health ministry in Gaza reports a death toll of 12,300, with over 2,000 additional individuals feared buried under rubble. The situation continues to escalate, raising concerns about the humanitarian crisis in the region.

White House Responds to Potential Israel-Hamas Hostages Deal

In response to a Washington Post report suggesting that Israel, Hamas, and the United States were nearing a deal involving the release of women and children seized by Hamas on October 7 in exchange for a five-day pause in fighting, the White House has issued a statement. A spokesperson clarified that, as of now, no such deal has been finalized, but the administration is actively working towards reaching an agreement.

However, Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, expressed optimism about the ongoing negotiations for the release of hostages taken by Hamas on October 7. He characterized the remaining challenges in the talks as “very minor” and stated that he is increasingly confident that a deal between Israel and Hamas can be achieved.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has categorically rejected a comprehensive ceasefire with Hamas. He stated that he is open only to considering a temporary truce, contingent upon the return of hostages kidnapped by the group. The delicate negotiations and the evolving situation continue to shape the dynamics of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Media outlets are circulating reports indicating that Israel is set to release approximately 50 hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. The exchange is purportedly contingent on a five-day comprehensive ceasefire, during which there will be a cessation of aerial reconnaissance by Israeli planes or drones.

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