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Gaza's 2 largest hospitals have ceased to function, health officials say

Palestinians arrive south of Gaza City on Sunday after fleeing their homes amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
Mahmud Hams
AFP via Getty Images
Palestinians arrive south of Gaza City on Sunday after fleeing their homes amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Updated November 12, 2023 at 8:23 PM ET

Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza, has effectively ceased to function and patient deaths there are rising significantly, the head of the World Health Organization said Sunday.

Meanwhile, health officials said Gaza's second largest hospital, Al-Quds, was suspending operations from lack of fuel and electricity. Palestinian health officials also said on Sunday that 23 of Gaza's 35 hospitals had stopped working.

Israel's military says it's been battling Hamas fighters around Al-Shifa.

"The situation is dire and perilous. It's been 3 days without electricity, without water and with very poor internet which has severely impacted our ability to provide essential care," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a social media post on Sunday. He added that there is "constant gunfire and bombings in the area" and that the facility "is not functioning as a hospital anymore."

Tedros called for an immediate cease-fire.

Earlier, Doctors Without Borders released a voice memo from Dr. Mohammed Obeid from inside Al-Shifa saying the lives of dozens of babies are in peril after their incubators shut down because fuel to power generators ran out.

"We had two neonatal patients die actually because the incubator is not working because there is no electricity," Obeid said. "So the situation is very, very bad. We need help."

Obeid said the hospital is treating 600 patients and that they are also running out of water and food.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN on Sunday that the goal is to evacuate all the patients from Al-Shifa. He said about 100 patients have been moved so far and special corridors are in place to help civilians travel out of the fighting zone. The prime minister also blamed Hamas for hindering evacuation efforts.

"We're obviously treading carefully when it comes to hospitals but we're also not going to give immunity to the terrorists," Netanyahu said on CNN's State of the Union.

Later Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, Netanyahu claimed Israel had offered fuel to the hospital, but it was refused.

"What happens is, the Hamas that is hiding in the hospitals and placing itself there doesn't want the fuel for the hospital," the prime minister said.

NPR could not immediately verify Netanyahu's claim of Israel helping evacuate patients from the hospital or that it had offered fuel to Al-Shifa.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. was in "active consultations" with the Israeli military over the fighting near hospitals.

"The United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals, where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire," he said on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday.

Nine Americans and one green card holder are still unaccounted for since the Hamas incursions, Sullivan said, adding that the U.S. is in close contact with the families of the American hostages.

"We don't know the status – whether they are alive or whether they have passed away – but we are looking to get the safe recovery of all of those individuals," he said on CNN's State of the Union.

Humanitarian groups plea for combat near hospitals to end

The regional directors of the World Health Organization and United Nations agencies have recorded137 attacks on health care facilities in Gaza since the fighting began, resulting in 521 people killed and 686 injured. According to the groups, 16 health care workers have been killed and 38 have been injured on duty.

"Decisive international action is needed now to secure an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and prevent further loss of life, and preserve what's left of the health care system in Gaza," the groups said Sunday in a joint statement.

Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said on social media that the "unbearably desperate" situation at Al-Shifa Hospital must stop. United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said there can be "no justification for acts of war in health care facilities."

Israel has not allowed any fuel to enter Gaza for more than a month. Israeli officials have confirmed that the military continues to clash with Hamas militants in the vicinity of hospitals in the Gaza Strip, but said Al-Shifa is not under siege.

Meanwhile, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said on social media that Gaza City's Al-Quds Hospital is "out of service and no longer operational" because of "the depletion of available fuel and power outage." The PRCS, which runs Al-Quds Hospital, said hundreds of patients were trapped and 14,000 people were sheltering there.

On Saturday, Israel demanded the evacuation of Gaza hospitals and accused Hamas of using human shields in the facilities.

"The hospitals need to be evacuated so we can deal with Hamas," Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for Israel's military, told reporters.

Those who do manage to evacuate still face Israeli airstrikes in southern Gaza, where the United Nations says its shelters have only one shower for 700 people.

Meanwhile, thousands rallied in Israel Saturday night for the return of about 240 hostages held in Gaza.

No cease-fire until all hostages are released, Netanyahu says

As fighting continues, Netanyahu said he does not anticipate Israel's military operation to last as long as it had for the U.S. to fight ISIS or al-Qaida.

"It took you many years. I don't think it's going to be many years. But I've set targets and not a deadline," he said on Meet the Press.

On Saturday, in a televised speech, Netanyahu said there would be no cease-fire until all hostages are released.

He also said Israel was forging ahead with his vision for post-war Gaza, which clashes with Washington's ideas. Netanyahu said Gaza will be demilitarized and Israel will maintain security control for the foreseeable future, saying that the Palestinian Authority would have no role there.

Washington has tried to discourage Israel from reoccupying Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the U.S. envisions a Palestinian government in both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a step toward Palestinian statehood, which Netanyahu staunchly opposes.

The Palestinian Health Ministry reports more than 11,000 people in Gaza have been killed in Israeli military operations since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people.

NPR's Juliana Kim and James Doubek contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.