WHO Urges Full Evacuation of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, Describing it as a “Death Zone”

WHO Urges Full Evacuation of Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, Describing it as a “Death Zone”

Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in the region, has been described as a “death zone” by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has announced plans to evacuate the facility as Israel’s army continues its operations to destroy Hamas. The assessment by the WHO came after a visit to the hospital by WHO and other UN officials, following an Israeli raid earlier in the week. Meanwhile, a Hamas health official reported that over 80 people were killed in twin strikes on a northern Gaza refugee camp, including a UN school where displaced people were sheltering. Social media videos verified by AFP showed bodies covered in blood and dust in the camp. The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees described the images as “horrifying” and Egypt called the bombing a “war crime.” Another strike in the Jabalia camp killed 32 people from the same family, including 19 children, according to Hamas health authorities. The Israeli army said it is reviewing the incident.

The Israeli army’s ongoing air and ground campaign has resulted in the deaths of 12,300 people, including over 5,000 children, according to the Hamas government. The UN estimates that 1.6 million people have been displaced within the Gaza Strip due to the six weeks of fighting. Israel announced that it is expanding its operational activities in additional neighborhoods in the area.

Al-Shifa Hospital has been a focal point in recent days, with Israeli forces alleging that Hamas uses it as a command center, a claim denied by the group and medical staff. The WHO reported that a UN assessment team found the hospital to be a “death zone,” with a mass grave at the entrance and nearly 300 patients still inside with only 25 health workers. The WHO and its partners are urgently developing plans for the evacuation of the remaining patients, staff, and their families. However, nearby facilities are already overstretched. The WHO called for an immediate ceasefire due to the extreme suffering of the people of Gaza.

On Saturday, hundreds of people fled the hospital on foot, following orders from the Israeli army. Columns of sick and injured individuals, including amputees, made their way towards the seafront along with displaced people, doctors, and nurses. Along the route, at least 15 bodies were seen, some in advanced stages of decomposition. NGO Doctors Without Borders reported that a convoy carrying its staff and family members came under attack while evacuating from near Al-Shifa, despite coordinating with both sides. One person was killed. Israeli forces denied ordering the evacuation of the hospital, stating that they had acceded to the director’s request to allow more civilians to leave.

According to the WHO, there are 29 patients at the hospital with serious spinal injuries who cannot move without medical assistance, and others have infected wounds due to a lack of antibiotics. Thirty-two babies are in extremely critical condition.

The situation in Gaza remains dire due to the Israeli siege, which has caused shortages of food, water, medicine, and fuel. Only a trickle of aid is allowed in from Egypt. Under US pressure, Israel permitted a first consignment of fuel to enter, allowing telecommunications to resume after a two-day blackout. However, the UN warns that the amount of fuel allowed is little more than a third of what is needed.

Diplomatic efforts are currently focused on securing the release of hostages, with US President Joe Biden’s chief adviser for the Middle East stating that more fuel deliveries and a significant pause in fighting will come when hostages are released. Relatives of those taken hostage, ranging from infants to octogenarians, have gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to demand information and action from the government.

The fate of Gaza after the conflict remains uncertain. Biden argued in an opinion piece that Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority. However, Netanyahu has expressed opposition to the idea, stating that the Palestinian Authority in its current form is not capable of receiving responsibility for Gaza. Biden also threatened sanctions, including visa bans, against settlers who have increased attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank in recent weeks.