May 22, 2024

AFP, GAZA STRIP: Around the Gaza Strip’s besieged largest hospital, Palestinians have witnessed constant bombardment, mass arrests, tanks and corpses littering the streets during a multi-day Israeli raid, with no end in sight.

Israeli forces battling Hamas militants launched the operation in and around Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital on Monday, saying senior operatives were based at the sprawling compound.

Since then, according to the military, about 150 Palestinian militants have been killed and hundreds more have been arrested or questioned.

And after five days, Israeli forces have shown no signs of pulling back.

“Everyone is afraid of being executed or arrested,” said 59-year-old Mohammed, who lives about 500 metres (0.3 miles) from Al-Shifa and gave only his first name.

“I feel that Gaza has become worse than the fires of hell,” he told AFP.

“I saw many bodies on Al-Shifa Street and tanks blocking the roads leading to the hospital. I saw fires in a house next to Al-Shifa.”

The surrounding areas, the Al-Rimal neighbourhood and Al-Shati refugee camp, are like “ghost towns”, with only few residents remaining, said Mohammed.

Many Palestinians in the territory’s north, where Gaza City is located, fled south earlier in the war, which began on October 7 with Hamas’s attack on southern Israel.

The latest raid on Al-Shifa — following a military operation there in November that sparked international outrage — has sent more seeking safety elsewhere.

AFP footage showed streams of people fleeing south along Gaza’s coast to escape the hospital onslaught on Thursday.

Mahmoud Abu Amra, 50, who lives in Al-Rimal, said Israeli troops forced “women and children to go west to Al-Rashid road on the coast, and then to the south of the Gaza Strip”.

Those who remain in the north, about 300,000 people according to the United Nations, face dire conditions and crippling shortages of basic supplies.

Israel’s military campaign against Hamas has killed at least 32,070 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The October 7 attack on Israel resulted in about 1,160 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

– ‘Tied and beaten’ –

On Friday at dawn Abu Amra said he saw Israeli forces raiding homes and residential buildings in Gaza City’s west.

“These forces evacuated all residents from their homes, and forced all men over the age of 16 to strip completely except for their underwear,” he said.

“They tied them up, beat them with rifle butts, insulted them and took them to a school near Al-Shifa hospital for interrogation and detention.”

Israel has maintained that its actions were in accordance with international law.

The Israeli military told AFP it was “often necessary for terror suspects to hand over their clothes… to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weaponry”.

“Detainees are given back their clothes when it’s possible to do so,” it added.

Israel had long said the sprawling Al-Shifa complex, where displaced Palestinians have taken refuge alongside patients and staff, sat atop an underground Hamas command centre.

Hamas has denied using the hospital for military purposes.

The Israeli army said Friday that troops were “continuing to conduct precise operational activity in the Al-Shifa Hospital area while preventing harm to civilians, patients, medical teams and medical equipment”.

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