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People gather around dead bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli bombardment on areas housing displaced people in Al-Najjar hospital, Rafah. Alamy Stock Photo

WHO chief says south Gaza's largest hospital no longer functioning after Israeli siege and raid

In northern Gaza, many are so desperate for food they are grinding up animal feed.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 18th 2024, 4:40 PM

SOUTH GAZA’S MAIN hospital is no longer functioning after weeks of siege by Israeli forces culminated in soldiers cutting power, invading the complex and detaining people earlier this week. 

The head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a post on X that Nasser hospital in Khan Younis is “not functional anymore”.

Israeli soldiers invaded the hospital after ordering the thousands sheltering inside to evacuate the complex. Around 100 people were rounded up and arrested by the Israeli forces. 

At least 120 patients and five medical teams are stuck without water, food or electricity in the hospital in Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Yunis, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Israel has for weeks concentrated its military operations in Khan Younis, the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, whom Israel accuses of masterminding the 7 October attack.

Intense fighting has raged around the besieged Nasser Hospital, where Doctors Without Borders has said Israeli forces have been firing directly into the building, killing and wounding patients and healthcare workers. 

The Israeli military said troops entered the hospital on Thursday, acting on what it said was “credible intelligence” that hostages had been held there. It later acknowledged it found no such evidence.

The power was cut and the generators stopped after the raid, leading to the deaths of six patients due to a lack of oxygen, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

A witness, who declined to be named for safety reasons, told the AFP news agency that the Israeli forces had shot “at anyone who moved inside the hospital”.

In northern Gaza, which has been left in ruins after months of fighting, many are so desperate for food they are grinding up animal feed.

“We’re going to die from hunger, not by bombs or missiles,” said Mohammed Nassar, 50, from Jabalia in the territory’s north.

As a much-needed delivery of supplies arrived in southern Gaza yesterday, the UN again warned that Gazans are close to famine.

The deliveries are also complicated by Palestinians in Rafah so hungry that they are stopping aid trucks to take whatever they can manage, according to the UN.

The death toll from Israel’s siege, bombardment and invasion of Gaza now stands at almost 29,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry. 

Ceasefire talks at an impasse

Meanwhile, hopes of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire dimmed after the United States signalled it would veto the latest push for a UN Security Council resolution on the matter. 

Mediator Qatar has also acknowledged that truce talks on the other diplomatic front have hit an impasse while Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said the prospect of a deal remains “uncertain”.

Martin also said Ireland has been attempting to put pressure on Israel not to carry out a planned invasion of Rafah, the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city and last refuge for around 1.5 million destitute people.

The fraught efforts to pause the four-month-old conflict come as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed yesterday to reject international appeals to spare Gaza’s southernmost city Rafah, where an estimated 1.5 million people have sought refuge.

Micheál Martin, who is also minister for foreign affairs, told RTÉ Radio this afternoon that while the prospect of a ceasefire agreement remains “uncertain”, he remains hopeful of success. 

He said that although Ireland is not involved in negotiations over a ceasefire and the release of captives on both sides, he said the Government was “working very hard with colleagues and partners” to a way towards a two-state solution, which would involve recognition of the State of Palestine. 

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani described the ongoing ceasefire talks as “not really promising”, saying that efforts had been complicated by the insistence of “a lot of countries” that any new truce involve further releases of hostages.

His assessment came as Hamas threatened to suspend its involvement in the talks unless relief supplies reach the north, where aid agencies have warned of looming famine.

“Negotiations cannot be held while hunger is ravaging the Palestinian people,” a senior source in the Palestinian militant group told AFP, asking not to be identified as he is not authorised to speak on the issue.

Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, comparing its campaign to that of Nazi Germany. 

“What’s happening in the Gaza Strip isn’t a war, it’s a genocide,” Lula told reporters in Addis Ababa where he was attending an African Union summit.

“It’s not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It’s a war between a highly prepared army and women and children,” added the veteran leftist.

“What’s happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people hasn’t happened at any other moment in history. Actually, it has happened: when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.”

UN vote

A United Nations Security Council vote set for next week appears unlikely to advance the ceasefire effort with the United States already voicing opposition.

“The United States does not support action on this draft resolution,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement. “Should it come up for a vote as drafted, it will not be adopted.”

Algeria’s draft resolution seeks an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but Thomas-Greenfield said the United States instead supports a truce-for-hostages deal that would pause fighting for six weeks.

rafah-palestinian-territories-18th-feb-2024-children-look-at-the-aftermath-of-the-israeli-bombardment-on-lands-housing-displaced-palestinians-credit-mohammed-talatenedpaalamy-live-news Palestinian boys on Rafah look at the crater left by the Israeli bombing of a refugee camp. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Rafah in the crosshairs

The border city of Rafah, where much of the Gaza population is now taking refuge after fleeing the violence further north, remains a live diplomatic issue, with even Israel’s closest allies like the US and UK calling for a planned invasion to be called off. 

“Above all,” the Tánaiste said, “we are all working to try and put pressure on Israel not to go into Rafah. The implications of that would be absolutely horrific.

“You’re talking about a million people in a very small area of ground who are absolutely devastated as it is. They’ve lost family. They’ve lost children. They’re short of food, and they’re at the end of their tether as human beings given what they’ve been through for the last number of months.

“It would be unconscionable, in my view for Israel to invade Rafah or to cause any more hardship to the people living in gaza. It would have appalling consequences.”

Israel’s relentless military campaign has edged closer to the city, with overnight attacks killing at least 10 people there and in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah, according to a tally by official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

palestinians-pray-for-the-relatives-killed-in-the-israeli-bombardments-of-the-gaza-strip-in-front-of-the-morgue-at-al-aqsa-hospital-in-deir-al-balah-gaza-strip-on-sunday-feb-18-2024-ap-photoad Palestinians pray for the relatives killed in the Israeli bombardments in front of the morgue at Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Part of the invasion plan that Netanyahu asked his military to drawn up includes the “evacuation” of civilians from Rafah, but with nowhere left for people to flee, there have been mounting fears that people will be forced across the Egyptian border and in the Sinai desert. 

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi yesterday reiterated Egypt’s opposition to any forced displacement into the Sinai.

In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, both leaders agreed instead on the “necessity of the swift advancement of a ceasefire”.

Even if a temporary truce deal is struck at the talks in Cairo, Netanyahu said his troops’ ground invasion of Rafah will go ahead.

“Even if we achieve it, we will enter Rafah,” he said at a televised news conference Saturday.

Countries urging Israel otherwise are effectively saying “lose the war”, he said.

Netanyahu spoke as thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, the latest public call for an immediate election by demonstrators who also accuse the government of abandoning hostages.

With reporting from AFP.