Hundreds flee one of Gaza’s last working hospitals, fearing Israeli attack

An injured person arrives at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 5, 2023. The hospital is one of the last functioning medical facilities in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Yousef Masoud/The New York Times)
JERUSALEM — Hundreds of displaced Palestinians fled one of the Gaza Strip’s last functioning hospitals Wednesday after the Israeli military ordered them to leave and threatened further action to stop what it said was Hamas activity there.اضافة اعلان

Thousands of Palestinians have sheltered at the Nasser Medical Complex in the southern city of Khan Younis for weeks, and many are terrified that Israeli forces will bombard or storm the complex, said Mohammed Abu Lehya, a doctor there. Previous Israeli warnings to evacuate hospitals, including Shifa, the largest in Gaza, have often preceded military raids.

Hanin Abu Tiba, 27, an English teacher sheltering at the hospital, described dire conditions inside, with food running out and aid convoys all but unable to deliver supplies. In text messages overnight, she said that she had seen an Israeli military vehicle outside the hospital gate.

“I am terrified to leave the hospital and get shot,” she said. But inside the complex, she added, “the electricity is cutting out, and the water and the canned food is almost gone. We don’t know what to do.”
Dr. Abu Lehya, in a WhatsApp message Wednesday, called conditions at the hospital “beyond imagination.”

The tensions at the hospital played out as Israel carried out extensive airstrikes in southern Lebanon on Wednesday in response to a deadly rocket attack on northern Israel. The rocket attack struck a military base near the city of Safed, killing a soldier and wounding eight people, Israeli authorities said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia allied with Hamas.

Israeli forces have been expanding their offensive in Khan Younis for weeks, saying they are targeting Hamas militants in the city. Israeli leaders have also vowed to invade Rafah, farther south, calling it Hamas’ last stronghold. More than one million people have sought shelter in Rafah, raising international alarm at what could happen should Israel begin a full-scale military operation there.
The Israeli military on Wednesday accused Hamas of conducting military activity on the grounds of Nasser Hospital and said the area “was used to hold hostages.”

“We demand the immediate cessation of all military activity in the area of the hospital and the immediate departure of military operatives from it,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

The military also instructed civilians to evacuate, though it said it had not called on patients and medical staff to leave. It called for civilians sheltering at the hospital to go to “safer spaces” in southern and central Gaza and said that Israel had “opened a secure route to evacuate the civilian population.”

A video shared on social media Wednesday and verified by The New York Times showed crowds of people, many carrying belongings and bedding, leaving the hospital as explosions sounded in the background.

But many Palestinians and aid groups say that no place in Gaza is safe, and doctors at the hospital and the Gaza Health Ministry said that some people who tried to flee the hospital compound Tuesday were shot at by Israeli soldiers, who killed some and wounded others.

The Israeli military did not respond to questions about those reports.

As Israeli troops approached the hospital, negotiators met in Cairo for a second day of discussions aimed at reaching an agreement that could pause the fighting and free the remaining hostages taken to Gaza during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel. But Israel and Hamas do not appear to be close to a deal.

An Egyptian official briefed on the talks after the first day of high-level negotiations Tuesday ended without an agreement described the tenor of the negotiations as positive.

On Wednesday, however, the Israeli news media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pulled the Israeli delegation from the talks — something that his office, in a statement, did not directly address. But the statement said that “Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed that Israel will not submit to Hamas’ delusional demands.”

The news reports infuriated a group representing relatives of the Israeli hostages, the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, which has been pressing Netanyahu to do more to secure the release of the captives. To pull out of the talks, the group said, would be to “consciously sacrifice the lives of the abductees.” It said it planned to protest outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, which partly administers the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Wednesday urged Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement, saying it could prevent a devastating Israeli incursion into Rafah.

“We call on everyone, especially the Hamas movement, to quickly complete the deal so that we can protect our people and remove all obstacles,” Abbas said in a statement reported by Wafa, the authority’s official news agency. Abbas leads Fatah, a political party that is a rival of Hamas.

With food, water, and medicine in desperately short supply in Gaza, the Biden administration on Wednesday called on Israel to stop blocking flour shipments to UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said Tuesday that he had issued a directive not to transfer flour to UNRWA, citing allegations that some of its employees were tied to Hamas, including 12 accused of having roles in the October 7 attack and its aftermath.

About 1,050 containers, most filled with flour, were held up at the Israeli port of Ashdod, Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, told reporters Friday. That would be enough to feed 1.1 million Palestinians for a month, he said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said, “That flour has not moved the way that we had expected it would move. We expect that Israel will follow through on its commitment to get that flour into Gaza.”

At Nasser Hospital, some medical workers were packing their belongings and preparing their families to flee.

“We are all scared,” said Dr. Mohammad Abu Moussa, a radiologist.

But he said that even though he was worried about an assault on the hospital, he and his wife had decided to remain for now. They and their two surviving children — a third was killed in an airstrike in October — have been staying at the hospital for weeks.

“I have no other choice,” Abu Moussa said. “I don’t have anywhere to go in Rafah, and I have young children, and they can’t walk long distances like that.”

Nasser was treating about 400 patients Wednesday, including about 80 in intensive care, with 35 on dialysis, said Rik Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative for the West Bank and Gaza.

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