Israeli troops withdraw from Gaza’s largest hospital after two-week raid

Israeli warplanes had hammered the Gaza Strip's north while its bombardment of the southern city of Rafah has reportedly killed an aid worker.

Israeli warplanes had hammered the Gaza Strip's north while its bombardment of the southern city of Rafah has reportedly killed an aid worker. Photo: Getty

The Israeli military has withdrawn from Gaza’s largest hospital after a two-week raid, leaving behind several bodies and a vast swathe of destruction, according to Palestinian residents.

The military described the raid on Al-Shifa Hospital as one of the most successful operations of the nearly six-month war.

It said it killed scores of Hamas and other militants, including senior operatives, and seized weapons and valuable intelligence.

It confirmed forces had withdrawn early on Monday.

The UN health agency said several patients died and dozens were put at risk during the raid, which brought even further destruction to a hospital that had already largely ceased to function.

Days of heavy fighting showed Hamas can still put up resistance even in one of the hardest-hit areas of Gaza.

Mohammed Mahdi, who was among hundreds of Palestinians who returned to the area, described a scene of “total destruction”.

He said several buildings had been burned down and he had counted six bodies in the area, including two in the hospital courtyard.

Video circulating online showed heavily damaged and charred buildings, mounds of dirt that had been churned up by bulldozers and patients on stretchers in darkened corridors.

Another resident, Yahia Abu Auf, said there were still patients, medical workers and displaced people sheltering inside the medical compound after several patients had been taken to the nearby Ahli Hospital.

He said army bulldozers had ploughed over a makeshift cemetery in Shifa’s courtyard.

“The situation is indescribable,” he said. “The occupation destroyed all sense of life here.”

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals for military purposes and has raided several medical facilities.

It says it launched the raid on Al-Shifa after Hamas and other militants had regrouped there.

Gaza health officials deny those allegations. Critics accuse the army of recklessly endangering civilians and of decimating a health sector already overwhelmed with war-wounded.

At least 21 patients had died since the raid began, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus posted late on Sunday on X, formerly Twitter.

He said more than 100 patients were still inside the compound, including four children and 28 critical patients.

He also said there were no nappies, urine bags or water to clean wounds, and many patients suffered from infections and dehydration.

The military had previously raided Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, in November after saying Hamas maintained an elaborate command and control centre inside and beneath the compound.

The war began on October 7, when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 people hostage.

Israel responded with an offensive that has killed at least 32,782 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

The Israeli military says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas fighters.

The war has displaced most of the territory’s population and driven a third of its residents to the brink of famine.

Northern Gaza, where Shifa is located, has suffered vast destruction and has been largely isolated since October, leading to widespread hunger.

Israel said in late 2023 that it had largely dismantled Hamas in northern Gaza and withdrew thousands of troops.

But it has battled militants there on a number of occasions since then, and the two weeks of heavy fighting around Shifa highlighted the staying power of the armed groups.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and all the hostages are freed.

He says Israel will soon expand ground operations to the southern city of Rafah, where some 1.4 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population – have sought refuge.

But he faces mounting pressure from Israelis who blame him for the security failures of October 7 and from some families of the hostages who blame him for the failure to reach a deal despite several weeks of talks mediated by the United States, Qatar and Egypt.

Tens of thousands of Israelis thronged central Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government protest since the country went to war in October.

-with AP

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