Ben Kentish 10pm - 1am
Shifa Hospital patients and staff leave the compound, Gaza health officials say
18 November 2023, 11:14
Health officials say they received an evacuation order from the military on Saturday morning.
Health officials say many patients, medical staff and those displaced by the ongoing war have left Gaza’s largest hospital, which was taken over by Israeli forces earlier in the week.
Palestinian officials and the Israeli military offered conflicting versions about what prompted the mass exodus from 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 Operation.
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 both 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.