Hamas- Israel war: Penny Wong calls for ‘steps towards a ceasefire’

Key Points
  • Doctors and aid groups say Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza is under siege from Israeli forces.
  • Many Palestinians are taking shelter in northern Gaza’s hospitals after their homes were destroyed by airstrikes.
  • The Israeli military has denied it’s targeting Al-Shifa hospital.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong says steps should be taken towards a ceasefire in the Hamas-Israel war, amid attacks on hospitals in Gaza.
Palestinian officials have said a baby has died and dozens more patients are at risk following Israeli strikes at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa.

The Israeli military, which has said Hamas has placed command centres under and around the hospital complex, has denied there is a siege taking place.

Wong said while she understood that Hamas was “burrowed into civilian infrastructure”, international humanitarian law required the protection of hospitals.
“We need steps towards a ceasefire,” she told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“It cannot be one-sided. We know that Hamas is still holding hostages, and we know that a ceasefire must be agreed between the parties. But we can also say that Israel should do everything it can to observe international humanitarian law.”

Gaza’s largest hospital under ‘continuous bombardment’

“It’s totally a war zone, it’s a totally scary atmosphere here in the hospital,” Ahmed al-Mokhallalati, a senior plastic surgeon at Al-Shifa, told Reuters on Saturday.
“It’s continuous bombardment for more than 24 hours now, nothing stopped, you know, it’s all from the tanks, from the street, from the air strike.”
Ashraf Al-Qidra, who represents the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, said Israeli army snipers commandeering rooftops of buildings near the hospital fired into the medical complex from time to time, limiting the ability of medics and people to move.

“We are besieged inside the Al-Shifa Medical Complex, and the (Israeli) occupation has targeted most of the buildings inside,” he said.

Residents said Israeli troops, who began a war to eliminate Hamas after it staged a bloody cross-border assault on 7 October, had been clashing with Hamas gunmen all night in and around Gaza City where the hospital is located.
“The hospitals need to be evacuated in order to deal with Hamas. We intend on dealing with Hamas who have turned hospitals into fortified positions,” the Israeli military said when asked if it planned to enter Gaza hospitals at some point.
Hamas denies using the hospital for its military purposes and has asked the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to send missions to Al-Shifa to investigate the Israeli allegations.

Israel said earlier it had killed what it called a Hamas “terrorist” who it said had blocked the evacuation of another hospital in the north, which Palestinian officials have said is out of service and surrounded by tanks.

People in a hospital corridor

Many Palestinians have been taking shelter at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Source: Getty / Khader Al Zanoun/AFP

The Palestinian Health Ministry said one baby was dead and 39 others were at risk because hospitals were cut off.

“Failure to bring fuel into the hospitals will be a death sentence for the rest. The incubators will only be able to work until this evening, after which the fuel will run out,” the ministry said.
Israel said on Saturday that rockets were still being fired from Gaza into southern Israel, where it has said about 1200 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage by Hamas militants last month. It reduced the death toll by 200 on Friday.

Israel has bombarded Gaza since Hamas’ 7 October attack in which more than 1,200 people were killed, according to the Israeli government, and over 200 hostages taken.

More than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Hamas is a Palestinian military and political group, which has gained power in the Gaza Strip since winning legislative elections there in 2006. Its stated aim is to establish a Palestinian state, while refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Hamas, in its entirety, is designated as a terrorist organisation by countries including Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. New Zealand and Paraguay list only its military wing as a terrorist group. In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly voted against a resolution condemning Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.