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A top UN official has condemned attacks on hospitals in Gaza as “unconscionable” and “reprehensible”, as Israeli forces battled Hamas militants in the streets around the besieged strip’s largest medical facility.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian aid chief, said hospitals across Gaza had been left with “no power, food or water” and there had been shooting at patients and civilians as they sought to flee.
“This is unconscionable, reprehensible and must stop,” he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “There can be no justification for acts of war in healthcare facilities.”
Griffiths’ remarks reflect rising alarm over the dire conditions in Gaza’s hospitals, particularly al-Shifa, the largest medical facility in the strip, where thousands of people had sought shelter from Israel’s bombardment of the enclave.
A Palestinian health official said al-Shifa had no electricity, except for its emergency department, after it ran out of fuel to power generators and no water, saying water tanks had been struck during the fighting.
“Hospitals are being besieged, bombed, and their patients, medical staff and displaced people being killed in full view of the entire world,” the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said in a statement.
The World Health Organization said on Sunday that it had lost communication with its contacts in al-Shifa, amid “horrifying reports of the hospital facing repeated attacks”.
The UN agency said al-Shifa had been hit “multiple times” and was now “surrounded by tanks”. “There are reports that some people who fled the hospital have been shot at, wounded and even killed,” it said.
However, those reports have been challenged by Israeli authorities.
Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of Israel’s co-ordination and liaison administration to Gaza, called reports of a siege and strikes on al-Shifa “lies”.
“Even now, anyone who wants to leave can do so,” he said in a post on X. The eastern side of the facility remained open, he added.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed on Saturday that armed clashes had taken place between its troops and Hamas militants around al-Shifa, though they had not fired at the hospital.
The IDF says the medical complex sits atop Hamas command centres and accuses the organisation of operating from a dense network of tunnels under al-Shifa, using civilians in the facility as human shields — a claim Hamas denies.
The battles in Gaza City are the latest stage in a ground offensive Israel launched more than two weeks ago with the aim of eliminating Hamas and toppling its rule over Gaza.
The war was triggered by Hamas’s devastating rampage through southern Israel on October 7, in which its militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages.
Since then, more than 11,000 Gaza residents have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of the strip, according to Palestinian health officials.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said on Saturday that Israel would not cease military operations in Gaza until it achieved victory.
He also rejected the idea that the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israel-occupied West Bank, could control Gaza after the war, putting himself on a collision course with the US, which is actively advocating the option of PA rule in the strip.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 20 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza had been forced to cease operating as a result of the conflict.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Dr Mohamed Abu Silmeyeh, al-Shifa’s director, said 37 premature infants had been taken off their incubators “because there is no power”.
“They are now lying on ordinary beds, we placed them ten to a bed in a normal room . . . and we are trying to preserve their lives for as many hours as we can,” he said on Saturday.
Abu Silmeyeh said that despite Israel saying there was a safe corridor for people to leave the complex, it was not possible for anybody to do so.
He added that the hospital’s administrators had asked the Red Cross on Saturday to intercede with Israel and allow the premature infants to be moved to a safer part of the complex.
“We want these babies to be taken out because if they stay here more than 24 hours they will die,” he said.
The Israeli army said it was ready to evacuate babies from al-Shifa, where Palestinian officials said two newborns died on Saturday after fuel to power its generators ran out.
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