US warns Israel against firefights in Gaza hospitals
Patients must not be harmed, says national security adviser Jake Sullivan
Washington — The US wants to avoid armed fighting inside hospitals in the Gaza Strip, which endangers the lives of civilians, and has conveyed its view to Israeli forces, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday.
“The United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire and we’ve had active consultations with the Israeli Defence Forces on this,” Sullivan told CBS.
Israel’s army said it was ready to evacuate babies from Gaza’s largest hospital, but Palestinian officials said people were still trapped inside it, with two newborns dead and dozens at risk from a power outage amid intense fighting nearby.
Two major hospitals in northern Gaza, Shifa and Al-Quds, closed to new patients on Sunday, with staff saying that Israeli bombardment plus lack of fuel and medicine meant babies and others could die.
Sullivan said that open-source information indicated that “Hamas is using hospitals as it uses many other civilian facilities, for command and control, for weapons storage, to house its fighters. And this is a violation of the laws of war.”
He also said the US continues to move US citizens out of Gaza.
Hospitals in the north of the Palestinian enclave are blockaded by Israeli forces and barely able to care for those inside, medical staff said. Israel says it is homing in on Hamas militants in the area and the hospitals should be evacuated.
Israel says Hamas has placed command centres under and near the hospitals and it needs to get at them to free about 200 hostages the militants took in Israel in an attack just over a month ago. Hamas has denied using hospitals in this way.
“My son was injured and there was not a single hospital I could take him to so he could get stitches,” said Ahmed al-Kahlout, who was fleeing south in accordance with Israeli advice while fearing that nowhere in Gaza was safe.
A plastic surgeon in Shifa said bombing of the building housing incubators had forced them to line up premature babies on ordinary beds, using the little power available to turn the air conditioning to warm.
“We are expecting to lose more of them day by day,” said Dr Ahmed El Mokhallalati.
On Sunday a Palestinian official briefed on talks over the release of hostages said Hamas had suspended the negotiations because of the way Israel had handled Shifa hospital.
There was no immediate comment from either Hamas or Israel.
Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, had said the military would help evacuate babies from Shifa on Sunday. But Qidra said they had not been told how to get the babies to safety. He said that of 45 babies in total, three had already died.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the hospital had been offered fuel but had refused it. The Israeli military said it had placed 300l of fuel at Shifa’s entrance on Saturday night but, the statement added, Hamas had blocked the handover.
Muhammad Abu Salmiya, the director of Al Shifa Medical Complex, denied that, telling Qatar’s Al Araby TV: “The occupation’s claims of refusing to receive 300l of diesel fuel are lies and slander, and all departments are closed due to running out of fuel, except for the emergency department.”
With the humanitarian situation across Gaza worsening, 80 foreigners and several injured Palestinians crossed into Egypt in the first evacuations since Friday, four Egyptian security sources said.
Poland said 18 of them were its citizens.
At least 80 aid trucks had also moved from Egypt into Gaza by Sunday afternoon, two of the sources said. Jordan said earlier it had airdropped a second batch into a field hospital.
Very little aid has entered Gaza since Israel declared war on Hamas more than a month ago after militants rampaged through southern Israel, killing about 1,400 people and taking more than hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Palestinian officials said on Friday that 11,078 Gaza residents had been killed in air and artillery strikes since then, about 40% of them children.
Disease is spreading among evacuees packed into schools and other shelters and surviving on tiny amounts of food and water, international aid agencies say.
Speaking from inside Gaza City, Jamila, 54, said she and her family could hear the roar of tanks nearby.
“During the day, people try to look for essential items such as bread and water, and at night people try to stay alive,” she said. “We hear explosions throughout the night, sometimes we can tell that some of these explosions are exchanges of fire between the resistance fighters and the Israeli forces.”
The mother-of-six said her family was scared to leave.
“We hear lots of bombings in the south, and there is no food. Things there don’t seem different from our situation here,” she said by phone, giving only her first name.
Palestinian health officials said 13 people had been killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Sunday.
The Gaza fighting has reignited conflict on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, which has seen the worst cross-border clashes since 2006.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which like Hamas is backed by Iran, said it attacked Israeli army troops near the Dovev Barracks on Sunday, inflicting casualties.
The Israeli military said earlier that anti-tank missiles fired by militants had hit a number of civilians, adding that it was retaliating with artillery fire.
The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon said one of its members near the town of Al-Qawzah in southern Lebanon had been wounded by a bullet overnight.