Al Shifa is the largest hospital in Gaza. Israeli forces surrounded the hospital with military personnel and armored vehicles. Due to lack of sufficient fuel and electricity, all services are stopped in the hospital. Children and elderly in ICU are dying. But why is this hospital the main goal of Israel?
The hospital is the ‘house of healing’ for Palestinians in Gaza and the main command center for Hamas to Israel. Last week, Israeli soldiers bombed an ambulance in front of the hospital. The ambulance was used to transport patients from Gaza City to the Rafah border crossing so that they could receive treatment in Egypt.
The attack killed 15 people, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which was coordinating the trip to Gaza with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the attack, which killed people in and around the ambulance, should be investigated as a possible war crime.
What is Al-Shifa?
Dar al-Shifa, literally ‘house of healing’. It is the largest and most comprehensive medical complex in Gaza, with three specialties—surgery, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Located near the harbour, this structure was originally a British Army barracks. It was later converted into a hospital in 1946 under Egyptian rule, and successively enlarged during the Israeli occupation in the 1980s. The hospital has gradually become very important for people who need urgent treatment.
According to a recent report by Doctors Without Borders, the hospital has the capacity to treat 700 patients at a time, but currently doctors are treating approximately 5,000 people. Thousands of people lost their homes in the war and took shelter in the hospital’s balconies and courtyards.
The head of surgery of the hospital Dr. Marwan Abusada said Al-Shifa can usually provide 210 beds. But currently 800 patients are waiting for admission. Hospital staff is also less. Israeli airstrikes killed 150 medical workers in the area.
Why repeated attacks here?
Al-Shifa is the main target of Israeli forces. They claim that the headquarters of Hamas is located below the hospital.
Last month, the Israeli military released a video. The video was a combination of satellite imagery and animated graphics. They claim that there is evidence of Hamas tunnels, meeting rooms and other facilities under the hospital. But Hamas rejected those claims. They have demanded to shelter more than 40 thousand displaced people here.
This is not the first time claims of a link between Hamas and Al Shifa Hospital have been made. After Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza in 2014, human rights group Amnesty International alleged that Hamas was committing atrocities against political opponents in the hospital’s abandoned areas. The human rights organization also alleged that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza.
The hospital was also attacked during the 2014 Israeli offensive in Gaza. Then 10 children were killed in the explosion in the hospital. Israel and Hamas blamed each other for the blast.
Israel has accused Hamas of fueling its own operations in the current conflict. As a result, they also prevented a limited number of humanitarian convoys from entering the valley. Meanwhile, 16 of the 35 hospitals in the Gaza Strip have stopped working due to the lack of electricity.
Current status of the hospital
Over the weekend, hospital authorities were forced to transfer their maternity ward to the private Al Helo International Hospital in Gaza City. According to the United Nations Population Fund, an estimated 50,000 pregnant women in Palestine have been killed in the conflict. Premature births and abortions are on the rise as a result of the fear and panic caused by the bombings.
In northern Gaza, where the hospital is located, the main source of water has been cut off since the war began. Currently the hospital is running only on saline ground water which is unfit for drinking and health. According to the United Nations, only 5 percent of Gaza’s water needs are being met.