Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Crisis Deepens Amid Israeli Encirclement; Biden Urges Protection”

Palestinian and UN officials say Gaza's largest hospital is no longer in operation. The director of Al-Shifa Hospital says the facility is out of fuel, leading to the deaths of patients including babies, as Israel and Hamas blame each other for the situation.

The crisis at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, has intensified as Israeli forces continue their encirclement, with U.S. President Joe Biden calling for the facility’s protection amidst escalating conflicts in the region.

The Plight of Al-Shifa Hospital

Al-Shifa Hospital, a critical medical center in Gaza City, is facing severe challenges after being surrounded by Israeli troops. The hospital, which previously served as a refuge for thousands, is now struggling without electricity, water, and essential medical supplies.

Biden’s Call for Protection

Reacting to the dire situation, President Biden emphasized the necessity of safeguarding medical facilities in conflict zones. “It is my hope and expectation that there will be less intrusive action,” Biden stated, highlighting the importance of protecting Al-Shifa and other medical facilities under siege.

Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza ride in an animal-drawn cart as they move southward on Monday. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Humanitarian Crisis Unfolds

The ongoing conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis, with more than two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million population displaced. Health officials reported that thousands have fled the hospital over the weekend, leaving behind hundreds of patients, including newborns in critical condition.

World Health Organization’s Statement

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, expressed grave concerns, stating that Al-Shifa “is not functioning as a hospital anymore.” He described the situation as dire, with constant gunfire and bombings exacerbating the crisis.

Hamas and Israeli Allegations

Amidst the turmoil, Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals as shields, claiming militants have a command center within Al-Shifa. However, both Hamas and hospital staff have denied these allegations. The Palestinians have accused Israel of recklessly targeting hospitals, while Israel maintains that Hamas is using these facilities for cover.

A wounded Palestinian baby receives treatment at the al-Shifa hospital, following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Oct. 23, 2023. Gaza’s Shifa Hospital has become the focus of a days-long stalemate in Israel’s war against Hamas.

International Law and Hospitals

Under international law, hospitals are granted special protections during war. However, these protections can be forfeited if combatants use them for military purposes. The International Committee of the Red Cross stipulates that there must be sufficient warning to evacuate staff and patients in such cases.

Casualty and Displacement

The Health Ministry in Gaza reported that 32 patients, including three infants, have died since the power outage at Al-Shifa. Additionally, more than 11,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed since the conflict’s escalation. Israeli forces have suffered casualties as well, with around 1,200 deaths, mostly civilians.

Babies that were previously in incubators have been moved to beds in a surgical ward, after a lack of electricity forced the neonatal unit to shut down. Reuters

U.S. State Department’s Response

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the profound impact of the crisis, stating, “The anguish that comes with seeing the daily images of babies, children, elderly people, women, and other civilians suffering in this crisis is wrenching.”

International Response and Diplomacy

Efforts are ongoing to reach a potential deal between Israel and Hamas for a temporary cease-fire. This deal, reported by various international news agencies, aims to facilitate the safe travel of Israeli captives and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians.