By Helen Sullivan in The Irish Times
“Reports of military incursion into al-Shifa hospital are deeply concerning,” the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, wrote on social media. “We’ve lost touch again with health personnel at the hospital. We’re extremely worried for their and their patients’ safety.”
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said early on Wednesday it was “carrying out a precise and targeted operation” against Hamas in al-Shifa hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza.
Gaza’s health ministry, run by Hamas, was quoted by Palestinian news agency Shebab as saying that “dozens of soldiers” have entered the al-Shifa emergency department building, and that tanks have entered the complex.
A witness inside al-Shifa told the BBC they saw six tanks and more than 100 soldiers inside the hospital complex, in the area around the emergency department.
The IDF announcement of its operation came within an hour of Palestinian health officials in Gaza saying the IDF had told them it would raid the hospital “within minutes”.
On its Hebrew X account, the IDF appeared to signal that once inside the hospital, it would continue to have a presence there, saying, “in the continuation of the operation, incubators, medical equipment and baby food are expected to be transferred to the hospital”.
The White House has said it has intelligence supporting Israel’s claims that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip – including al-Shifa hospital – to conceal or support their military operations and to hold hostages.
Hamas said it strongly condemned and rejected the claims, adding that these statements “give a green light to the Israeli occupation to commit further brutal massacres targeting hospitals”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has insisted that moving the most vulnerable patients from al-Shifa hospital has become an “impossible task”.
Figures vary widely on how many civilians are at the site. On Sunday, the WHO put the figure at about 1,500 displaced people, up to 650 inpatients and 200 to 500 health workers.
A White House official, speaking after the operation was announced, said it does not want to see a firefight in a hospital.
Israeli defence officials say they have agreed to allow fuel shipments into the Gaza Strip for humanitarian operations, the Associated Press reports. It is the first time that Israel has allowed fuel into the territory since the Hamas militant group’s bloody cross-border invasion on October 7th.
The UN said the fuel will be “used exclusively to run trucks for the distribution of incoming humanitarian aid” and that “this represents a fraction of the fuel needs for humanitarian operations.”
The death toll in Gaza was not updated in Tuesday for the fourth day in a row, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “following the collapse of services and communications at hospitals in the north, the Ministry of Health”.
It is speculated at around 12,000 with just short of 5,000 children.
The UN Security Council is reportedly negotiating a new resolution that demands “immediate extended humanitarian pauses” throughout the Gaza Strip but makes no mention of a ceasefire.
The resolution, drafted by Malta, does demand that “all parties” comply with their obligations under international law. The Security Council has rejected four resolutions on the war, and many of its 15 members have said they don’t want a vote on a new resolution unless it’s going to be approved.
US president Joe Biden and Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke “at length” about ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, including many children and a number of Americans, the White House said.