Middle East crisis: Israel attacks Lebanon after deadly rocket attack

Hundreds of displaced Palestinians fled one of the Gaza Strip’s last functioning hospitals on Wednesday, after the Israeli military ordered them to leave and threatened further action to stop what it said was Hamas activity there.

Thousands of Gazans have taken refuge in the Nasser Medical Complex in the southern city of Khan Younis for weeks, and many are terrified that Israeli forces will bomb or raid the complex, said Mohammed Abu Lehya, a doctor there. Previous Israeli warnings to evacuate hospitals, including Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest, have often preceded military raids.

Hanin Abu Tiba, 27, an English teacher sheltered in the hospital, described the dire conditions inside, with food running out and aid convoys virtually unable to deliver supplies. In text messages overnight, she said she had seen an Israeli military vehicle outside the hospital gate.

“I’m afraid I’m going to leave the hospital and get shot,” he said. But inside the complex, he said, “the electricity is going out, and water and canned food are almost gone. We do not know what to do”.

Dr. Abu Lehya, in a WhatsApp message on Wednesday, called the conditions at the hospital “beyond imagination.”

Tensions at the hospital escalated when Israel carried out extensive airstrikes in southern Lebanon on Wednesday in response to a deadly rocket attack on northern Israel. The rocket attack hit a military base near the city of Safed, killing one soldier and wounding eight people, Israeli authorities said. No one immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia allied to Hamas.

A man digs between tents pitched by Palestinians seeking shelter in front of the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis.Credit…Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israeli forces have been expanding their offensive in Khan Younis for weeks, saying they are targeting Hamas militants in the city. Israeli leaders have also vowed to invade Rafah, further south, calling it the last stronghold of Hamas. More than a million people have sought refuge in Rafah, raising international alarm about what could happen if Israel launches a large-scale military operation there.

The Israeli military on Wednesday accused Hamas of carrying out military activities on the grounds of the Nasser hospital and said the area “was used to hold hostages.”

“We demand the immediate cessation of all military activity in the hospital area and the immediate departure of military agents from the hospital,” the Israeli army said in a statement. a declaration.

The military also ordered civilians to evacuate, although it said it had not asked patients or medical staff to leave. He called on civilians sheltering in the hospital to go to “safer spaces” in southern and central Gaza, and said Israel had “opened a safe route to evacuate civilians.”

TO video Shared on social media on Wednesday and verified by The New York Times, it showed crowds of people, many carrying belongings and bedding, leaving the hospital as explosions played in the background.

But many Palestinians and aid groups say nowhere in Gaza is safe, and doctors at the hospital and Gaza’s Health Ministry said some people who tried to flee the hospital compound on Tuesday were shot by Israeli soldiers, killing some and hurt some. others.

The Israeli military did not respond to questions about those reports.

As Israeli troops approached the hospital, negotiators met in Cairo for a second day of discussions aimed at reaching an agreement that could stop the fighting and free the remaining hostages taken to Gaza during the Hamas-led attack on November 7. October against Israel. But Israel and Hamas do not appear to be close to reaching an agreement.

People burying relatives killed in attacks outside the Nasser hospital last month.Credit…Mohammed Dahman/Associated Press

An Egyptian official briefed on the talks after the first day of high-level negotiations ended Tuesday without a deal described the tenor of the negotiations as positive.

However, on Wednesday, Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had withdrawn the Israeli delegation from the talks, something his office did not directly address in a statement. But the statement said that “Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed that Israel will not submit to the delusional demands of Hamas.”

The news reports angered a group representing relatives of Israeli hostages, the Missing Families and Hostages Forum, which has been pressing Netanyahu to do more to secure the captives’ release. To withdraw from the talks, the group stated, would be “consciously sacrificing the lives of those kidnapped.” He said he planned to protest outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which partially administers the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Wednesday urged Hamas and Israel to reach a deal, saying it could prevent a devastating Israeli incursion into Rafah.

Smoke billowing over Khan Younis on Wednesday, seen from Rafah.Credit…Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We call on everyone, especially the Hamas movement, to quickly complete the agreement so that we can protect our people and remove all obstacles,” Abbas said in a declaration reported Wafa, the authority’s official news agency. Abbas heads Fatah, a political party rival to Hamas.

Faced with desperate shortages of food, water and medicine in Gaza, the Biden administration on Wednesday called on Israel to stop blocking flour shipments to UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Tuesday he had issued a directive not to transfer flour to UNRWA, citing allegations that some of its employees were linked to Hamas, including 12 accused of participating in the attack of October 7. and its consequences.

Some 1,050 containers, most filled with flour, were held up in the Israeli port of Ashdod, Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, told reporters on Friday. That would be enough to feed 1.1 million Gazans for a month, he said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said: “That flour has not moved as we expected. “We hope that Israel fulfills its commitment to bring that flour to Gaza.”

At the Nasser hospital, some medical workers were packing their belongings and preparing their families to flee.

“We are all afraid,” said Dr. Mohammad Abu Moussa, a radiologist.

But Dr Moussa said that, although he was worried about a raid on the hospital, he and his wife had decided to stay for now. They and their two surviving children (a third was killed in an airstrike in October) have remained in hospital for weeks.

“I have no choice,” said Dr. Abu Moussa. “I have nowhere to go in Rafah, I have small children and they can’t walk long distances like this.”

People fleeing Khan Younis arrive in Rafah on Wednesday.Credit…Hatem Ali/Associated Press

Nasser was treating about 400 patients on Wednesday, including about 80 in intensive care and 35 on dialysis, said Rik Peeperkorn, World Health Organization representative for the West Bank and Gaza.

The WHO last had access to the hospital, the largest in southern Gaza, on January 29, it said. He said the WHO had asked Israel for permission to carry out two missions in the past five days to resupply medicines to the hospital and assess its condition, but that Israel had denied the requests.

“Without this support, and without being able to access this hospital, it may stop functioning,” Dr. Peeperkorn said in a video from Rafah.

The Israeli military has previously rejected accusations that it has blocked medical supply missions. On Monday, after the WHO said it had been denied access to the hospital, the Israeli agency that coordinates policy for the Palestinian territories saying that the WHO “had never submitted a request for coordination.”

On Wednesday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said in a declaration: “Nasser is the backbone of the health system in southern Gaza. He must be protected. Humanitarian access must be allowed.”

The report was contributed by Rawan Sheikh Ahmad, Aaron Boxerman, Adam Sella, Gaya Gupta, Johnatan Reiss, Patrick Kingsley and Erica L. Green.