An Israeli airstrike struck near the entrance to Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Friday, killing several people, according to Gaza and Israeli officials, as Palestinians said a convoy of ambulances was preparing to leave the hospital carrying wounded to Gaza border. to go to Egypt for treatment.
The Israeli military said it carried out the strike on an ambulance “used by a Hamas terrorist cell,” adding in a statement that “a number of Hamas terrorists were killed in the attack.” An Israeli army spokesman, Major Nir Dinar, confirmed that it was the same strike that caused the explosion outside the hospital.
The head of Al Shifa Hospital, Dr. Mohammed Abu Salmiya, said 13 people were killed and many were injured. He said the wounded included nurses and patients in the evacuation convoy, but no one was killed. The death toll could not be independently verified.
The explosion occurred at around 4:30 p.m., according to local reports.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, he said in a statement on Friday that he was horrified by the strike and repeated his calls for a “humanitarian ceasefire”.
Hours earlier, a health ministry spokesman, Ashraf al-Qudra, had announced at a press conference that a convoy carrying “a large number of wounded” would head south on Al Rasheed, a coastal highway, at 4 p.m. towards the Rafa border crossing. Several seriously injured have been flown in recent days to Egypt for medical treatment not available in the Gaza Strip.
At a later news conference, Mr al-Qudra said the convoy had left the hospital and reached a nearby roundabout, Ansar, when it was hit by an airstrike. The convoy turned back, he said, and when it returned to the entrance of Al Shifa, it was hit again. He said 15 people were killed and 60 injured.
A statement late Friday from the Palestine Red Crescent Society said there were five ambulances in the convoy, four operated by Gaza’s health ministry and one by the charity. He said the ambulances left the hospital at 4:05 p.m. and they headed for the southern border, but after about 2.5 miles they came to a crater in the road and had to turn back.
The statement said that when the returning convoy was less than half a mile from the hospital, a blast hit the top ambulance, which was operated by Gaza’s health ministry. The other four ambulances proceeded to Al Shifa Hospital. When the Red Crescent ambulance arrived within a few meters of the entrance, it too was hit, the statement said.
Al Shifa Hospital has been at the center of many claims and crises since the start of the war. Israel says Hamas, which controls Gaza and orchestrated a deadly attack on Israel on October 7, operates a command center under the hospital. Hamas denied it.
Displaced Gazans live in and around the facility, believing it to be safer than other alternatives.
Gaza’s health ministry and international aid groups say Al Shifa is running out of fuel and has been forced to curtail operations amid ongoing power and fuel cuts by Israel. Doctors said they were treating large numbers of people injured in airstrikes without adequate medicine and supplies.
Ismail Alghoull, who was filming inside the hospital at the time of the explosion, said he heard an explosion near the ambulances and ran outside to see what had happened. He saw dozens of victims, he said.
Salama Maarouf, a spokesman for the Hamas-led Gaza administration, said one of his employees, Haytham Harara, was among the dead.
Ali Jadala, a photographer for Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, said he was at the hospital with his sister. They were visiting their mother, who had been seriously injured in an attack that destroyed their family home and killed four of their siblings as well as their father. He was near the hospital entrance when the explosion occurred, he said. His sister was hit by shrapnel.
Yousur Al-Hlou, Neil Collier, Patrick Kingsley and Nader Ibrahim contributed to this report.
— Karen Zraik and She is Abuheweila