Palestinians digging ‘mass grave’ at Gaza’s Israeli-encircled hospital, health officials say

Key Points
  • Surrounded by Israeli forces, Palestinians in Al Shifa hospital, dig mass grave amid ongoing attacks.
  • Israel and the US claim hospitals are being used for Hamas military operations, something Hamas deny.
  • The UN Secretary-General has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire as more hospitals shut down operations.
Palestinians trapped inside Gaza’s biggest hospital were digging a mass grave on Tuesday to bury patients who died under Israeli encirclement, and said no plan was in place to evacuate babies despite Israel announcing an .
Israeli forces have surrounded Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital which they say sits atop an underground headquarters of Hamas militants.
Hamas, Gaza’s ruling Islamist group, denies fighters are present and says 650 patients and 5,000-7,000 other civilians are trapped inside the hospital grounds, under constant fire from snipers and drones.

It says 40 patients have died in recent days, including three premature babies whose incubators were knocked out.

A Hamas official in Beirut said 25 of Gaza’s 35 because of Israel’s assault. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was deeply disturbed by the in the hospitals, his spokesman said.

“In the name of humanity, the secretary-general calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” the spokesman told reporters.

Israel says Guterres not fit to lead UN

Israel’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he believed Guterres “does not deserve to be the head of the United Nations”, during a press conference inside the UN building in Geneva.
Five weeks after in retaliation for a cross-border assault by militants, the fate of Al Shifa has become a focus of international alarm, including from Israel’s closest ally, the United States.
Ashraf Al-Qidra, Gaza’s health ministry spokesman, reached by telephone inside the hospital compound, said there were about 100 bodies decomposing inside and no way to get them out.
“We are planning to bury them today in a mass grave inside the Al Shifa medical complex. It is going to be very dangerous as we don’t have any cover or protection from the ICRC,” he told Reuters, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent.

“The men are digging right now as we speak.”

Thirty-six babies are left from the neo-natal ward after three died. Without fuel for generators to power incubators, the babies were being kept as warm as possible, lined up eight to a bed.
Israel announced on Tuesday that it was offering portable, battery-powered incubators so the babies could be moved. But Qidra said that so far no arrangements had been established to carry out any such evacuation.
“We have no objection to … the babies being moved to any hospital, in Egypt, the West Bank or even to the occupation (Israeli) hospitals. What we care most about is the wellbeing and the lives of those babies,” he said.
“The occupation is still besieging the hospital and they are firing into the yards from time to time,” he said.

Israel denies the hospital is under siege and says its forces allow exit routes for those inside. Medics and officials inside the hospital deny this and say those trying to leave come under fire. The situation could not be independently verified.

Palestinians taking shelter in Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital live under difficult conditions in Gaza

Palestinians try to fortify their tents, located near the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, with limited means to protect themselves from the cold and rainy weather in Khan Younis, Gaza on 14 November. Source: Getty / Ashraf Amra

Trapped

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said shots were fired on Tuesday at one of its bases near Al-Shifa, where MSF staff and their families, more than 100 people in total, were sheltering.
“They ran out of food last night,” MSF said on X. “We have been trying to evacuate them for three days. MSF is asking the Israeli army and Hamas to provide safe passage.”

Israel has bombarded Gaza since Hamas’ 7 October attack in which more than 1,400 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.
Israel’s response to Hamas’ 7 October attack, including a total siege and constant bombardment of the crowded enclave, has alarmed countries around the world. Israel says Hamas is to blame for harm to civilians because fighters hide among them; Hamas denies this.

Around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been made homeless, unable to escape the territory where food, fuel, fresh water and medical supplies are running out.

Palestinian children eating bread

Palestinian people, including children, take refuge in a school affiliated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Gaza amid continuing Israeli attacks on 14 November 2023. Source: Getty / Abed Rahim Khatib

Infections at Al-Shifa hospital

Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a surgeon, told Reuters by phone from inside al-Shifa that the main risk now was from decomposing bodies.
“We are sure that all kind of infections will be transmitted… Today we had a little bit of rain … It was really horrible, nobody could even open a window, or just walk around the corridors with a really bad smell,” he said.

“Burying 120 bodies needs a lot of equipment, it can’t be by hand efforts and by single person efforts. It will take hours and hours to be able to bury all these bodies.”

Doctors performed surgery without any oxygen on Monday, making general anaesthesia impossible, he said.

Israel, US claim hospitals being used by Hamas military

Israel’s military has released video and photos of what it said were weapons Hamas had stored in the basement of another hospital, Rantissi, specialising in cancer treatment for children. Hamas said the images were staged.
The White House has said its independent intelligence supported Israel’s claim that Hamas was using Gaza’s hospitals, including al-Shifa, to hide command posts and hostages while a glimmer of progress emerged in hostage negotiations.
National security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the US had its own intelligence Hamas was using al-Shifa “for a particular command and control mode”.

The armed wing of Hamas said it was ready to free up to 70 women and children held in Gaza in exchange for a five-day ceasefire. Al-Qassam Brigade spokesman Abu Ubaida said Israel had asked for 100 to be freed.

There was no immediate public response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he was engaged in daily discussions to secure the hostages’ release and that he believed it would happen.
“Hang in there, we’re coming,” he said at the White House, when asked by reporters what his message to family members of hostages would be.

Biden’s top adviser on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, is heading to the region, the White House said.The United States and Britain imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Hamas on Tuesday.

Relatives of hostages set off from Tel Aviv on a days-long protest march to Jerusalem to plead for more government action.
Yuval Haran, from Kibbutz Be’eri where Hamas fighters killed scores of civilians including his father, said he was marching out of desperation to free seven family members.

“For 39 days we have been in infinite anxiety. We are living this pain each and every moment. And I cannot keep sitting down and waiting,” he said. “They must be brought home now.

Palestinians killed in the West Bank

Israeli forces killed at least eight Palestinians in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, seven of them in clashes during a raid in the town of Tulkarm near the boundary with Israel, Palestinian medics and local media said.
The Israeli army and police said their forces, sent into Tulkarm to detain suspected militants, came under fire and killed several Palestinian gunmen in the ensuing skirmish.

An Israeli airstrike hit a group of Palestinians who opened fire and threw a bomb at the forces, an army and police statement said.

Tulkarm, a major crossing point into Israel, has seen a series of clashes between Israeli forces and local militant groups as well as bands of stone-throwing youths during a sharp surge in violence since the deadly attack on southern Israel by Hamas gunmen last month.
Tuesday’s raid came after the al-Qassem Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, put out a video claiming two attacks near the northern West Bank city of Nablus two days previously.
An eighth Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire on Tuesday in Beit Aynoun, north of the city of Hebron in the southern West Bank, medical officials said.

Israel has been striking armed groups in the West Bank with increasing intensity as it wages war on Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, another territory where Palestinians seek to establish an independent state.