Patients, staff and displaced people yesterday left Gaza’s largest hospital, health officials said, leaving behind only a skeleton crew to care for those too sick to move and Israeli forces who had taken over the facility earlier in the week.
The exodus from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City came the same day Internet and phone service was restored to the Gaza Strip, ending a telecommunications blackout that forced the UN to shut down critical humanitarian aid deliveries because it was unable to coordinate its convoys.
In the south, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building on the outskirts of the town of Khan Younis, killing at least 26 Palestinians, said a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.
Israel’s military has been searching Al-Shifa for traces of a Hamas command center that it alleges was located under the building — a claim Hamas and the hospital staff deny — and urging the several thousand people still there to leave.
Yesterday, the military said it had been asked by the hospital’s director to help those who would like to leave to do so by a secure route.
The military said it did not order any evacuation, and that medical personnel were being allowed to remain in the hospital to support patients who cannot be moved.
However, Medhat Abbas, a spokesman for the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, said the military had ordered the facility cleared, giving the hospital an hour to get people out.
After it appeared the evacuation was mostly complete, Ahmed Mokhallalati, an Al-Shifa physician, wrote on social media that there were about 120 patients remaining who were unable to leave, including some in intensive care and premature babies, and that he and five other doctors were staying behind to care for them.
It was not immediately clear where those who left the hospital had gone, with 25 of Gaza’s hospitals nonfunctional due to lack of fuel, damage and other problems, and the other 11 only partially operational, the WHO said.
Israel has said that hospitals in northern Gaza were a key target of its ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas, and they were used as militant command centers and weapons depots, which Hamas and medical staff deny.
Israeli troops have encircled or entered several hospitals, while others stopped functioning because of dwindling supplies and loss of electricity.
Since occupying Al-Shifa, Israel has been facing pressure to prove its claim Hamas set up its main command center in and under the hospital. So far, Israel has shown photographs and video footage of weapons caches that it says were found inside, as well as what it said was a tunnel entrance.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the Israeli claims.
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