July 15, 2024

US president says he hopes to see ‘less intrusive action’ at Al-Shifa Hospital as patients and staff remain trapped inside.

United States President Joe Biden has said that Gaza’s largest hospital “must be protected” as Israeli tanks surround the facility with hundreds of patients and staff trapped inside.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Monday, Biden said he hoped to see Israel take “less intrusive action” at Al-Shifa Hospital, which medical staff say has been repeatedly targeted by Israeli bombing and snipers.

“My hope and expectation is that there will be less intrusive action relative to hospitals and we remain in contact with the Israelis,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office.

“Also, there is an effort to get this pause to deal with the release of prisoners and that’s being negotiated, as well, with the Qataris … being engaged,” the US President added. “So I remain somewhat hopeful but hospitals must be protected.”

Biden’s comments came as medics warned of mounting casualties among patients, including newborn babies, at the hospital, which has been encircled by Israeli forces since Saturday.

Witnesses on Monday reported that tanks and armoured vehicles were positioned just metres from the gate of the medical complex, where staff say power outages, dwindling medical supplies and Israeli bombardment have made taking care of patients next to impossible.

At least 32 patients, including six premature babies, have died at the hospital since Friday, Palestinian health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said on Monday.

Three nurses have also been killed at the facility, the UN relief agency in the occupied Palestinian territory said on Sunday.

Israel has claimed that Hamas operates a command centre under the hospital, which the armed group and hospital officials have denied.

Israel’s military said on Monday that its soldiers had discovered a weapons cache in a tunnel connected to Rantissi Hospital, a facility for treating children in northern Gaza, sharing a video of what it said were grenades, suicide vests and other explosives.

“Hamas hides in hospitals,” spokesman Daniel Hagari said during a nightly press conference. “Today, we will expose this to the world.”

Since Sunday, the Al-Shifa, Al-Quds and Kamal Adwan hospitals have suspended operations due to Israeli bombardment and dwindling supplies of fuel and medicines.

Israel has told civilians to leave Al-Shifa and medics to send patients elsewhere. Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Khan Younis, said the “Israeli military is calling on patients to step out of the hospital with their hands above their heads”.

“But some of them need wheelchairs while others are disabled, hence cannot walk,” he said. “It’s hard to comprehend these are the demands of the Israeli military, while at the same time [it is] playing nice with the media, telling journalists ‘we are offering a safe corridor’.”

Israel has pledged to eliminate Hamas in response to the armed group’s October 7 attacks on southern Israeli communities, which Israeli officials say killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Israel’s bombardment and ground operation in Gaza since then have killed at least 11,240 Palestinians, including more than 4,600 children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-governed enclave.

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