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“Gaza City Nov. 19, 2:49 p.m.
Nearly four days after the Israeli military stormed the biggest hospital in the Gaza Strip, the World Health Organization described the complex as a “death zone” where several patients had died because medical services had been shut down.
There were 291 patients, including 32 babies in extremely critical condition, remaining at Al-Shifa Hospital, the U.N. agency said in a statement late Saturday, after Israeli forces allowed a U.N. team to tour the facility for an hour. Earlier in the day, hundreds of patients and civilians sheltering at the hospital had fled south.
The W.H.O. said that that movement came after an evacuation order from the Israeli military. But Israeli officials said that they had agreed to a request from the hospital authorities to allow safe passage for people who wanted to leave Al-Shifa, and that they had brought food and water into the complex.
Capturing the hospital — and Gaza City, the largest urban center in the enclave — was a watershed moment for Israel last week. Officials have said that the complex and tunnels underneath have been used by Hamas to shelter fighters and weapons, and to plan for attacks, including the one on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel. Both the Palestinian armed group and Al-Shifa officials have denied the accusation that Hamas had a command center under the hospital.
Israel has yet to provide conclusive proof of a subterranean military base at the hospital. The United States has backed the assertion about the tunnels but has also said that Israel must do more to protect civilians as the death toll rises after six weeks of war.
Israeli forces are continuing operations at Al-Shifa, Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said in a statement. Their top priority, he said, was uncovering information about the hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Six weeks after that assault, the fate of the more than 200 people identified by Israel as abducted by Hamas and other groups remains uncertain. The United States has been trying to broker an agreement to free some hostages, but a deal remains elusive. And Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza have killed more than 11,000 people, a vast number of them children, according to the local authorities.
At Al-Shifa Hospital, Israeli troops discovered a shaft on Friday night and were scouring the underground area it led to, Admiral Hagari said. The military said it plans to release images and video from that operation.
Heavy fighting continues near the hospital, according to the W.H.O. It said the U.N. team spent only an hour inside Al-Shifa but found “evident” signs of shelling and gunfire. U.N. personnel also saw a mass grave at the entrance that they were told contained the bodies of more than 80 people, the W.H.O. statement added.
The W.H.O. said it was trying make arrangements to move the remaining patients — including the 32 babies in need of urgent care — and the 25 or so health workers still at Al-Shifa to other hospitals in Gaza.
“Immediate efforts must be made to restore the functionality of Al-Shifa and all other hospitals to provide urgently needed health care services in Gaza,” the W.H.O. statement said. It again called for an immediate cease-fire, a sustained flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza, the unconditional release of all hostages and a halt to attacks on health care and other vital civilian facilities.
Since the beginning of war, Israel has ordered Gazans to move south, away from Hamas strongholds, saying they would be safer there. But those areas have not been immune from Israeli attacks. On Saturday, airstrikes pounded parts of southern Gaza, according to the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority’s news agency. The Israeli military did not immediately confirm the strikes.
As the fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas engulfs northern Gaza, about 10,000 more people evacuated from the territory’s north to its south on Saturday using a route designated by the Israeli military, according to United Nations estimates.
The Israeli military has been opening the route for several hours each day, promising safe passage for civilians to escape the fighting. But evacuees have described the route as a risky journey with an uncertain outcome. Along the way, they brave what they have said is incoming fire and the physical strain of a long trek. Once they reach the south, they have found overcrowded shelters and scarcities of food and water. Israeli airstrikes have pounded southern Gaza, too.
A U.N. official said on Saturday that two schools run by his agency in northern Gaza had been bombarded in less than 24 hours, and video from one of the scenes, verified by The New York Times, showed many bloodied and motionless bodies at one.
Palestinian officials said on Saturday that many people were killed and injured in an Israeli attack that hit a U.N.-run school being used as a shelter by adults and children, in the Jabaliya area north of Gaza City. The Israeli military said it had received reports of “an incident” in the Jabaliya area and that it was under review.
Parts of southern Gaza were pounded by airstrikes on Saturday, according to the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority’s news agency, even as the Israeli military continued to warn residents to evacuate from north to south.
Wafa, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, reported Saturday both on strikes in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza, as well as Khan Younis and Rafah in the south. The Israeli military did not immediately confirm the strikes.
The influx of people wounded in airstrikes and those displaced from the north — many already suffering from injury and illness — is putting increasing pressure on hospitals in southern Gaza, a doctor said.
People who evacuated hospitals in the north and arrived at the European Gaza Hospital in Khan Younis, in the south, have been met with familiar scenes: Families were sleeping in overcrowded corridors while staff members scrambled to treat people amid a shortage of beds that left some patients on the floor, Dr. Saleh Al-Hamase, the head of nursing at the hospital, said in a phone interview.“