Palestinian officials and the Israeli military offered conflicting versions about what prompted the mass exodus from al-Shifa Hospital.
Israel’s military has been searching the hospital for traces of a Hamas command centre 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.
On Saturday, the military said it had been asked by the hospital’s director to help those who would like to leave do so by a secure route.
The military said it did not order any evacuation, and that medical personnel are being allowed to remain in the hospital to support patients who cannot be moved.
But 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, Dr Ahmed Mokhallalati, a Shifa physician, said on social media that there were some 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 non-functional due to lack of fuel, damage and other problems and the other 11 only partially operational, according to the World Health Organisation.
Israel has said hospitals in northern Gaza were a key target of its ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas, claiming they were used as militant command centres 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 Shifa, Israel has been facing pressure to prove its claim Hamas set up its main command centre in and under the hospital.
So far, Israel has shown photos and video 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.
More than 80 people were killed on Saturday by double Israeli strikes on the Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza’s health ministry said. “At least 50 people” were killed in an Israeli strike on early Saturday morning at the UNRWA-run al-Fakhouri school in the Jabalia refugee camp where displaced Palestinians are sheltering, a Gaza health ministry official said, Agence France-Presse reported. Another strike on a separate building in the camp killed 32 people of the same family, 19 of them children, according to the official.
Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden’s top adviser on the Middle East said on Saturday the release of hostages held by the Palestinian militant group Hamas would lead to a surge in the delivery of humanitarian aid and significant pause in fighting in Gaza.
“The hostages are released, you will see a significant, significant change,” Brett McGurk said at the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit in Bahrain.
Bahrain’s crown prince, speaking at the summit on Friday, called on Hamas to release Israeli women and children held hostage and for Israel in exchange to release from its prisons Palestinian women and children who he said were non-combatants.
Israel said it was entering the “next stage” of the war, as attention turned from the rubble of Gaza City to Khan Younis in the south. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at a news conference, wouldn’t say if he believed top Hamas leaders were hiding there. “We’ll get to them,” he said. “All Hamas leaders are dead men walking.”
Hamas has lost contact with groups assigned to guard some hostages, a spokesperson said. He didn’t say how many of the approximately 240 hostages held in Gaza were unaccounted for. – AP/Reuters/Bloomberg/Guardian
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