5 patients die as oxygen runs out in Gaza hospital seized by Israeli forces, health officials say

AP , Friday 16 Feb 2024

Five patients in intensive care died after their oxygen cut off in southern Gaza's main hospital that was stormed by Israeli troops, causing chaos for hundreds of staff and wounded inside, health officials said Friday.

Al nasser Hospital
A man inspects the damage in a room following Israeli bombardment at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 17, 2023. AFP


Troops were searching the complex where the military said it believes the remains of captives might be located.

The raid came after troops had besieged Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis for nearly a week, with staff, patients and others inside struggling under heavy fire and dwindling supplies, including food and water. The Israeli military said Friday it had detained dozens from the facility, including some it alleged were involved in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza, meanwhile, appear to have stalled, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday pushed back hard against the U.S. vision for after the war — particularly its calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. After speaking overnight with President Joe Biden, Netanyahu wrote on X that Israel will not accept “international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.”

He said that if other countries unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, it would give a “reward to terrorism.” Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected creation of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive and expand it to the Gaza city of Rafah, near Egypt, until Hamas is destroyed. In their phone call, Biden again cautioned Netanyahu against moving forward with a military operation in Rafah before coming up with a “credible and executable plan” to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians, the White House said.

Two Israeli airstrikes on Rafah overnight killed at least 10 people, including seven members of the same family, according to hospital officials.

With the war showing no sign of ending, the risk of a broader conflict grew as Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group had deadliest exchange of fire along the border since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Israel launched airstrikes into southern Lebanon for a second day on Thursday after killing 10 civilians and three Hezbollah fighters on Wednesday in response to a rocket attack that killed an Israeli soldier and wounded several others.

Scenes of panic in hospital

Nasser Hospital was the latest in a series of hospitals Israeli forces have besieged and stormed during the war, claiming Hamas was using them for military purposes. The assaults have gutted Gaza’s health sector as it struggles to treat a constant stream of people wounded in daily bombardments.

The military said Thursday it had “credible intelligence” that Hamas had held captives there and that the remains might still be inside. On Friday, the military said its troops were continuing to search the hospital but did not report finding any bodies.

It said they arrested 20 people on suspicion of participating in the Oct. 7 attack, and that dozens were taken for questioning. It also said troops found grenades and mortar shells, and that militants had fired mortars from inside the hospital a month ago. The claims could not be independently confirmed.

As they searched, troops ordered the more than 460 staff, patients and their relatives to move into an older building in the compound that isn’t equipped to treat patients, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Six patients were left in the ICU with no one to watch over them, along with three infants in incubators, the ministry said.

On Friday, the ministry said five of those patients had died because electricity was cut, stopping oxygen supplies for them. “The Israeli occupation is responsible for the lives of patients and staff as the compound now is under its full control,” the ministry said. It said troops had set up in the hospital's maternity ward and were bringing male patients there, apparently for interrogation.

Israeli troops, tanks and snipers have surrounded Nasser Hospital for at least a week, with food, water and supplies inside dwindling and fire from outside killing several people inside, according to health officials. Hours before the troops moved into the hospital Thursday, Israeli fire killed one patient and wounded six others, staff said.

Hamas in a statement Friday denied that its fighters were using Nasser Hospital for military purposes, calling the accusations “lies circulated to justify the war crime.”

International law prohibits the targeting of medical facilities, though they can lose those protections if they are used for military purposes. Even then, Israel must take precautions and follow principles of proportionality, the U.N. Human Rights Office said, adding that “as the occupying power” Israel has the duty to maintain medical facilities.

No end in sight to the war 

Since the begining of the war at least 28,775 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, and more than 68,500 wounded, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Some 80% of the population has been driven from their homes, and a quarter are starving amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. Large areas in northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, have been completely destroyed.

Israeli media reported that CIA Director William Burns flew to Israel to meet with Netanyahu to discuss efforts for a cease-fire.

Hamas says it will not release all the remaining captives until Israel ends its offensive, withdraws and frees Palestinian prisoners, including top militants.

Netanyahu has rejected those demands and says Israel will soon expand its offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. Over half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has sought refuge in Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online

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