Israeli Forces Push Deeper Into Rafah

Israeli Forces Push Deeper Into Rafah

Damage to the facade of Al Awda Hospital in March, in a frame from a video by the World Health Organization.Credit…World Health Organization, via Reuters

After a four-day blockade at Al Awda Hospital, a major medical center in northern Gaza, the Israeli military ordered patients and staff to evacuate on Wednesday and then raided the complex, according to Gazan health officials.

While most of the roughly 150 people who had been at Al Awda Hospital were able to evacuate, about 30, including patients in critical condition, their companions and medical workers, stayed behind, Dr. Medhat Abbas, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said in a statement on Thursday.

The Israeli military declined to comment on its operations around Al Awda, which is in the Tal Al-Zaatar area in northern Gaza. Israel withdrew from much of the north earlier in the year, but has recently returned to some areas to fight what it says are attempts by Hamas to reconstitute its forces there.

The hospital’s acting director, Dr. Mohammad Salha, said that he had told Israeli forces he would not move some critical patients without ambulances. He said he had remained there, along with a few medical workers, to ensure the safe evacuation of the patients.

“They are crushing everything, destroyed the doors,” said Dr. Salha. “They are checking every single centimeter of the hospital,” he added in a voice message from inside the hospital early Thursday morning.

Naji Ziadeh, a member of the hospital’s administrative staff, said those at the hospital were “besieged for four whole days, during which we lived indescribable horror.” He said in a phone interview that a tank had advanced to the hospital’s entrance on Wednesday and that the troops used loudspeakers to order everyone to evacuate.

Israeli forces then began escorting patients and staff members out of the hospital and searching them one by one, Mr. Ziadeh said. They were then taken to a warehouse and asked to move north to Gaza City.

Mr. Ziadeh said that he “shed tears of anguish” while evacuating the hospital, where he, like Dr. Salha, had been working and living since the war began. “It’s our home,” he said.

Those who had been trapped inside the hospital during the blockade, with little fuel and no clean water, included two newborn babies and their mothers, who had delivered them by C-section, Dr. Salha said. He added that staff members he was in touch with had evacuated to Gaza City and were searching for shelter.

The dire conditions at the hospital are part of a pattern that has played out repeatedly across Gaza over more than seven months of war. Israel has raided several hospitals after accusing Hamas, the armed group that led an attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7, of using them for military purposes, claims that Hamas and hospital administrators have denied.

Like many medical facilities, Al Awda has come under repeated attack. In November, Médecins sans Frontières said three doctors, including two of its staff members, were killed in a strike on the hospital.

The hospital also faced a nearly two-week siege in December, during which several medical workers in the building, including an M.S.F. surgeon, were shot from the outside, the aid group said. The Israeli military then took control of the hospital and stripped and detained people for interrogation, M.S.F. said.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Ahmed Muhanna, was one of those taken into Israeli custody and his whereabouts remain unknown, according to ActionAid, another nongovernmental organization that supports the hospital.

Ameera Harouda contributed reporting from Doha, Qatar.

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