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The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza says it welcomes any international observers to inspect the medical facilities at Al-Shifa Hospital, a spokesperson for the Hamas-controlled ministry said Wednesday.
“We are ready to receive any international institutions to vouch and confirm medical work at Al-Shifa Medical Complex,” Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra said in a statement.
The statement was released three hours before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced a “precise and targeted operation" against Hamas in the area of the Al-Shifa Hospital.
The IDF has claimed that Hamas are hiding in tunnels under the hospital. CNN could not verify the claim.
Al-Qudra appealed to the international community to intervene to stop the fighting, calling the situation in the Al-Shifa medical complex “critical" and calling for "urgent action to save the patients inside."
“There are 1,500 medical staff members and around 7,000 displaced people inside Al-Shifa Medical Complex. We appeal to all countries to take urgent action to save the patients inside,” he said.
Al-Qudra added that Israeli military vehicles have surrounded the hospital complex and that shelling in the vicinity was ongoing.
The Israeli military said it is conducting a raid inside Gaza’s biggest hospital as it targets Hamas militants it claims are operating beneath the structure — which the militant group and hospital officials deny.
Thousands of Palestinians are believed to be sheltering in and around the hospital, where conditions have rapidly deteriorated with doctors working by candlelight and wrapping premature babies in foil to keep them alive.
Here’s what we know so far:
The raid: On early Wednesday morning, local time, the Israeli military said it was “carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital” in Gaza.
Hospitals are protected in times of war under international humanitarian law, but Israel said in a statement that Hamas’s “continued military use of the Shifa hospital jeopardizes its protected status.”
Israel believes it has given Hamas operatives sufficient time to cease their alleged activities inside the building, according to the statement.
The US on Tuesday cited intelligence suggesting Hamas has a command node under the hospital, seeming to back Israel’s assertion. CNN cannot independently verify the US or Israeli claims.
Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner told CNN that the presence of civilians at the hospital makes the ground operation there “challenging.” He said Israeli forces were trying to “mitigate” the impact, citing the presence of medics and Arabic speakers among those carrying out the raid.
What’s happening on the ground: Khaled Abu Samra, a doctor at the hospital, told CNN they were given 30 minutes’ warning before the Israeli operation on the complex began.
“We were asked to stay clear of the windows and the balconies. We can hear the armored vehicles, they are very close to the entrance of the complex,” he said.
Khader Al Za’anoun, a journalist inside the hospital, told CNN that Israeli tanks had moved into the hospital complex, and there were gunfire exchanges across the yard. It’s unclear whether there are IDF soldiers inside the hospital buildings, Al Za’anoun said.
What Palestinian authorities have said: Palestinian Health Minister Dr. Mai Al-Kaila said Wednesday the raid represented “a new crime against humanity, medical staff, and patients.”
It could have “catastrophic consequences” for patients and medical staff, she said. Her health ministry is based in Ramallah and falls under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- and is separate from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza.
Hamas blamed both Israel and the US for the Israeli raid in a statement, claiming that the US had given Israel “a green light … to commit more massacres against civilians" by using Israel’s “false narrative” of Al-Shifa being used as a command center.
The statement also accused the UN of failing to defend Palestinians, saying: “The silence of the United Nations and the betrayal of many countries and regimes will not deter our Palestinian people from clinging to their land and their legitimate national rights.”
The Israeli army raid on Al-Shifa Hospital represents “a new crime against humanity, medical staff, and patients," according to Dr. Mai Al-Kaila, the Palestinian health minister.
Al-Kaila said the raid could have “catastrophic consequences” for patients and medical staff.
Hundreds of staff and patients are still at Al-Shifa, according to the most recent reports from inside the hospital, which is the largest in Gaza.
Some context: Dr. Al-Kaila’s health ministry is based in Ramallah and falls under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
It is separate from the health ministry in Gaza which is controlled by Hamas, though the PA is still responsible for the provision of medical equipment, and the payment of salaries to staff in Gaza’s medical facilities, among other services.
UN trucks are expected to refuel at the Rafah crossing on Wednesday, a US official told CNN Tuesday.
The refueling would mark the first time that Israel has allowed fuel into the enclave since the October 7 Hamas attacks.
Without fuel, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees has said its aid operation in Gaza is approaching an end.
“It is very simple. Without fuel, the humanitarian operation in Gaza is coming to an end. Many more people will suffer and will likely die,” Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA commissioner-general said.
US Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield said in recent weeks that the US expects that additional fuel will be brought in once existing fuel runs out and that there is an agreed mechanism in place. This fuel would only be going to southern Gaza, he noted.
Israel has accused Hamas of hoarding and diverting fuel, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that “Israel has raised appropriate concerns, concerns that we share, about Hamas’s hoarding and siphoning of fuel in northern Gaza.”
Axios was the first to report on the expected refuel.
US President Joe Biden “discussed at length” efforts to free hostages with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday, the White House said.
The phone call came as talks to free hostages in Gaza appear to be intensifying.
Both Israel and the United States are to blame for the Israeli army's raid on Gaza’s largest hospital, according to a statement from Hamas.
The raid on the Al-Shifa hospital also constituted a failure by the United Nations to defend Palestinians, Hamas said.
“The silence of the United Nations and the betrayal of many countries and regimes will not deter our Palestinian people from clinging to their land and their legitimate national rights,” Hamas said.
Hamas claimed the US had given Israel, “a green light … to commit more massacres against civilians" by supporting what it called Israel’s “false narrative” – that Hamas was using Al-Shifa hospital as a command and control base.
On Tuesday, the White House and the Pentagon said that Hamas is storing weapons and operating a command center from Al-Shifa hospital, citing newly declassified intelligence.
The remarks echoed claims made by Israel, which Palestinian hospital officials and Hamas have consistently rejected.
Israel and Hamas are moving closer to a deal to secure the release of hostages in exchange for a sustained, days-long pause in fighting, a senior United States official familiar with the talks said on Tuesday.
Meantime, concerns continue to mount as Israeli strikes pound the Palestinian enclave. Israel's defense minister claimed that Hamas has lost control in northern Gaza, including in Gaza City.
The continuing fuel blockade has resulted in a deepening humanitarian crisis as hospitals, water systems, bakeries and other services reliant on electricity shut down.
Here's what else to know
- Israel operation at Gaza hospital: Israel Defense Forces said it is carrying out a "precise and targeted operation" in Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. This comes as Israel officials have repeatedly claimed Hamas is storing weapons and operating a command center from the hospital, a claim the White House backed on Tuesday and Palestinian hospital officials and Hamas have rejected.
- The situation in Gaza's hospitals: The United Nations says only one hospital out of roughly 30 — the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City — is functioning in the northern part of the enclave. Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah said the facility has two operating rooms and three surgeons for more than 500 patients. The International Committee of the Red Cross stressed hospitals' protected status under international humanitarian law as concerns mount that medical centers in Gaza are being targeted for military action.
- Latest death toll: At least 11,255 Palestinians have been killed as a result of Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, about 4,630 of whom were children, according to figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah. The ministry said in a statement that it was having significant difficulties obtaining updated information because of the parlous state of communications in Gaza.
- Where hostage negotiations stand: The United States, Israel and Hamas — with Qatar playing a significant mediating role — have been engaged in talks for weeks to free the hostages. The broad parameters that are currently being discussed entail Hamas releasing a large group of people at the same time Israel frees Palestinian prisoners. The exchange would take place in the course of a sustained, days-long pause in fighting. Israel recently asked for 100 hostages to be released, according to a Hamas spokesman and a source familiar with the negotiations.
- Optimism from the US: President Joe Biden said he believes a deal can be reached to release hostages taken during the October 7 attacks. "I believe it’s going to happen. But I don’t want to get into detail," Biden told reporters at the White House. The State Department would not say whether any deal for Hamas to release hostages would include freeing all 10 American citizens held. The youngest American hostage and the only known US minor child currently being held has been identified as 3-year-old Abigail Edan, according to a family member.
- Israeli offensive actions: Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israeli troops are in control of northern Gaza and "especially Gaza City." He said it was demonstrated by Israeli soldiers entering the Legislative Council building in the heart of the city on Monday. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians in Tulkarem during an overnight raid on the town, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah said. The Israeli army said it was pursuing militants.
- The humanitarian crisis continues: An estimated 200,000 people have fled northern Gaza since November 5, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Another UN human rights agency is warning that "hundreds of thousands of civilians" remain trapped in Gaza City. Egyptian officials are also working to bring 36 newborn babies from Al-Shifa Hospital to Egypt, according to the country's health minister. Gaza's largest flour and wheat manufacturing mill could stop production in a few days due to the lack of fuel, the head of public relations for Al-Salam Mills said.
- Fighting across the border: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah “not to test Israel" after intense fire was reported around the border overnight. The IDF said its fighter jets fought back at mortar launches fired from Lebanon overnight and also struck Hezbollah infrastructure and operational command centers.
- Global pressure: The government of Belize has approved measures to suspend diplomatic ties with Israel and repeated calls for an immediate ceasefire. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he discussed the situation in Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and both sides “expressed deep concern at the unprecedented increase in civilian casualties," the Kremlin said in a statement, adding that there should be the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
- Back and forth with the UN chief: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “does not deserve to be the head of the United Nations" after the UN chief commented that something is “clearly wrong” with Israel’s military operation in Gaza. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric later defended Guterres, saying he is continuing his work and is focused on international humanitarian law and human rights.
Hundreds of staff and patients are still inside Al-Shifa, according to the most recent reports from inside the hospital, along with several thousand who have sought shelter from Israel’s air and ground offensive.
Doctors reported Monday that premature babies at Gaza’s largest hospital were being wrapped in foil and placed next to hot water in a desperate bid to keep them alive.
Meanwhile, a reporter for the Al Arabiya network who was inside the hospital told CNN that people were too scared to flee due to the heavy fighting.
Global attention has turned to the hospital amid reports suggesting several patients, including children, have died in what the hospital’s director has called “catastrophic” conditions.
Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, the director-general of the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza, said Monday that medical staff had refused an Israel Defense Forces evacuation order because they fear approximately 700 patients would die if they were left behind.
“The problem is not the doctors, it’s the patients. And if they are left behind, they will die, and if they are transferred, they will die on the way. This is the problem: We are talking about 700 patients,” Al-Bursh told CNN on Monday.
A doctor present at Al-Shifa hospital told CNN they were given a 30-minute warning before the Israeli operation on the complex began early Wednesday.
Amid the deteriorating conditions, military spokesperson Peter Lerner told CNN that the Israeli forces were trying to "mitigate" the presence of civilians at Al-Shifa hospital – citing the presence of medics and Arabic speakers among those carrying out the raid – which was making the ground operation “challenging.”