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WHO: Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital a 'death zone'

Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital a 'death zone', WHO says urging evacuation
3 min read
19 November, 2023
Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital a 'death zone', WHO says urging evacuation
The exterior of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City amid ongoing attacks by Israel [Getty]

Gaza's largest hospital has become a "death zone," the World Health Organization said Sunday, announcing plans to evacuate the facility, as Israeli forces continue to attack the besieged Gaza Strip.

The assessment came after a visit by WHO and other UN officials to the hospital, which Israeli forces raided earlier this week.

Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, has been a key focus in recent days, with Israeli forces alleging Hamas uses it as a command centre - a claim denied by the group and medical staff.

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On Sunday, the WHO said a UN assessment team reached the hospital found a "death zone", with a mass grave at the entrance and nearly 300 patients left inside with 25 health workers.

"WHO and partners are urgently developing plans for the immediate evacuation of the remaining patients, staff and their families," the body said, warning however that nearby facilities were already overstretched.

It urged an immediate ceasefire given the "extreme suffering of the people of Gaza."

On Saturday, hundreds of people fled the hospital on foot on orders the Israeli forces, according to the facility's director.

Columns of sick and injured, some of them amputees, were seen making their way towards the seafront along with displaced people, doctors, and nurses, as loud explosions were heard around the complex.

At least 15 bodies, some in advanced stages of decomposition, could be seen along the route, lined with heavily damaged shops and overturned vehicles, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

NGO Doctors without Borders said a convoy carrying its staff and family members came under attack Saturday while evacuating from near Al-Shifa, despite coordinating with both sides.

One person was killed.

Israeli forces denied ordering the evacuation of the hospital, claiming it had "acceded to the request of the director" to allow more civilians to leave.

The WHO said 29 patients at the hospital with serious spinal injuries cannot move without medical assistance, and others have infected wounds due to lack of antibiotics.

There are also 32 babies in "extremely critical condition," WHO said.

The forces' relentless air and ground campaign has since killed 12,300 people, more than 5,000 of them children, according to the Palestinian government in Gaza.

The UN says some 1.6 million people have been displaced inside the Gaza Strip by six weeks of fighting, and Israel said Saturday its military was now "expanding its operational activities in additional neighbourhoods in the area of the Gaza Strip."