Israeli troops storm main Khan Younis hospital after ordering its evacuation

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces stormed the main hospital in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli fire killed a patient and wounded six others at the complex. The Israeli army said it was searching for the remains of hostages taken by Hamas.

The raid on Nasser Hospital came after troops laid siege to the facility for nearly a week, with hundreds of staff, patients and others inside struggling under heavy fire and supplies including food and water dwindling. A day earlier, the army thousands of displaced people who had taken refuge there to leave the hospital in the town of Khan Younis, the focus of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in recent weeks.

The war shows no signs of ending, and the risk of a wider conflict grew as the militant group Hezbollah stepped up attacks in Israel and Lebanon after a particularly deadly altercation on Wednesday.

The military said it had “credible information” that Hamas had held hostages at Nasser Hospital and that the hostages’ remains may still be inside. Vice Admiral Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman, said forces there were carrying out a “precise and limited” operation and would not forcibly evacuate medics or patients. Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian structures to protect his fighters.

A released hostage told the Associated Press last month that she and more than twenty other prisoners had been held at Nasser Hospital. International law prohibits attacking medical facilities; they may lose that protection if they are used for military purposes, although operations against them must still be proportionate to any threat.

As troops searched hospital buildings, they ordered the more than 460 staff, patients and their relatives to move to an older building on the site that is not equipped to treat patients, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. They were “in harsh conditions without food or baby food” and suffered severe water shortages, the report said.

Six patients were left in intensive care, along with three babies in incubators with no staff to care for them. The ministry said fuel for generators will soon run out, putting their lives at risk.

In addition, Israel launched airstrikes on southern Lebanon for a second day killing ten civilians and three Hezbollah fighters Wednesday in response to a rocket attack that killed an Israeli soldier and injured several others.

It was the deadliest firefight along the border since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. Israel and Hezbollah – an ally of Hamas – have exchanged fire on a daily basis, increasing the risk of a wider conflict.

Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s rocket attack. Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, a senior member of the group, said the group is “prepared for the possibility of expanding the war” and will meet “escalation with escalation, displacement with displacement and destruction with destruction.”

Negotiations on a ceasefire in Gaza are now underway seem to have come to a standstilland Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised that continue the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and dozens of hostages are taken the militants’ attack on October 7 have been liberated.

SCENES OF PANIC IN THE HOSPITAL

Nasser Hospital has been the latest focus of Israeli military operations that have devastated Gaza’s health sector as it struggles to treat a constant stream of people injured in daily bombings.

Israeli troops, tanks and snipers have surrounded the hospital for at least a week, and fire from outside recently killed several people, according to health officials.

“There is no water, no food. Waste is everywhere. Sewage has flooded the emergency room,” said Raed Abed, an injured patient who left Nasser Hospital on Israeli orders on Wednesday.

Still suffering from a serious stomach wound, Abed said he initially collapsed when he got out of his hospital bed and tried to leave. He then waited outside for hours as troops allowed the departing people to pass five at a time, arresting some and making them strip to their underwear, he said. He eventually walked for miles until he reached the border town of Rafah, where he was admitted to a hospital. As he lay there in bed, he gasped in pain from his wound as he spoke.

Overnight, one of Nasser Hospital’s wards was hit by an attack, killing one patient and injuring six others, Dr. Khaled Alserr, one of the remaining surgeons there, told the AP.

Video showed doctors rushing to move patients through a hallway filled with smoke or dust, while in a dark room a wounded man screamed in pain as gunfire echoed outside.

“The situation is escalating every hour and every minute,” Alserr said.

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French-language acronym Médecins Sans Frontières, said its staff had to flee the hospital on Thursday, leaving patients behind, and that one staffer was detained at an Israeli checkpoint just outside the facility.

Hours after the troops entered the hospital, military spokesman Hagari said they were still conducting searches. He said dozens of militants were arrested from the hospital grounds, including three who took part in the October 7 attack. He also said that troops found grenades and mortar shells, and that Israeli radar determined that militants fired mortars from the hospital grounds a month ago.

NO END IN SIGHT TO THE WAR

The war began when Hamas militants left Gaza on October 7 and attacked several Israeli communities, killing around 1,200 people. another 250 taken hostage. During a week-long ceasefire, more than a hundred prisoners were released in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

About 130 prisoners remain in Gaza, a fourth of whom are believed dead. Netanyahu is under intense pressure from the hostages’ families and the general public to strike a deal to secure their freedom, but his far-right coalition partners could topple his government if he is seen as being too soft on Hamas. Dozens of family members of hostages protested Thursday, blocking traffic outside the army headquarters, where the war cabinet also meets.

Israel responded to Hamas’ attack with one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

At least 28,663 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed and more than 68,000 injured, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters. About 80% of the population has been driven from their homes, and a quarter are going hungry amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. Large areas in northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, are completely destroyed.

Israeli media reported that CIA Director William Burns flew to Israel to meet with Netanyahu to discuss ceasefire efforts.

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

Netanyahu has rejected these demands and says Israel will soon expand its offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents has taken refuge in Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere.

Airstrikes late Wednesday in central Gaza killed at least 11 people, including four children and five women, according to hospital data. Relatives gathered around the bodies wrapped in white shrouds outside the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah before the remains were placed in a truck for burial.

One man had trouble letting go. He lay down and held one of the bodies on the truck as he cried.

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Mroue reported from Beirut and Lidman from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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