The overcrowded, poorly equipped and damaged hospitals in the Gaza Strip, which have been performing surgeries only with painkillers due to a lack of basic supplies, are experiencing particularly dramatic moments. At least five of them reported being surrounded by Israeli tanks or coming under crossfire and shelling. Israel confirms that it has surrounded hospitals and demanded that they be evacuated, as international pressure grows for the lives of Palestinian civilians to be preserved, now with the United States joining the chorus.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in charge of American foreign policy, said that “many Palestinians have been killed, many have suffered in recent weeks.” On a visit to India, he also stated that he is discussing with Israel about “concrete steps” that can be taken to minimize civilian deaths.
Shortly after the Hamas attack, which served as a pretext for the Israeli counteroffensive, the White House declared unrestricted support for Israel’s right to defend itself and contributed money and military equipment, including sending the largest aircraft carrier in the world to the region.
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Also this Friday, the prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, condemned what is happening in the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of targeting civilians and violating international law, in a speech during an event in Riyadh, the capital of his country — Since the beginning of the war, negotiations for the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which were at an advanced stage, have been suspended.
But the Israel Defense Forces insist the hospitals function as Hamas strongholds and say they have made progress in their goal of destroying the Palestinian group. They would have killed dozens of militants and discovered military complexes and weapons factories.
Under pressure, Israel announced daily four-hour breaks to facilitate the flight of citizens from the north to the south of Gaza. The displacement of the Palestinian population has been an Israeli demand since the beginning of the attack, under the argument that it needs to combat Hamas in northern Gaza, but intends to spare civilian lives. Israel claims the south is a safe zone, but it frequently bombs it.
Despite this alleged concern for innocent people, Israel’s counterattack has already claimed more than 11,000 lives, including thousands of children. Nearly 500, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, were killed in the attack on al-Ahli hospital weeks ago.
The new offensive against hospitals reportedly left one person dead and several injured. Al-Shifa, the largest in northern Gaza, and at least four others, including a pediatric hospital, were hit, according to local authorities. Health professionals see Israeli tanks, which have been advancing through the territory for almost two weeks, taking up positions around medical centers. Mohammed Abu Salmiya, director general of al-Shifa, told the network Al Jazeera that the hospital suffered at least four bombings.
In addition to the danger for patients and healthcare professionals, this type of situation also ends up involving Palestinians who have left their homes and use hospitals as shelter against Israeli attacks. This is the case of Shahad al-Sharafa, 18 years old, who said, on Thursday (9) night, that the attacks set fire to ambulances that were in al-Shifa’s courtyard. According to her, displaced people living there came to put out the fire, as emergency teams were unable to arrive quickly due to constant shelling and battles in the streets. The next morning, she said fighting and attacks continued throughout the night and into Friday morning.
“Israel is now launching a war against Gaza City’s hospitals,” Mohammad Abu Selmeah, director of Al-Shifa, told Reuters news agency. Tel Aviv claims it does not target civilians and does everything to avoid hitting them.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), 20 health centers in Gaza are completely out of operation. The organization’s spokeswoman, Margaret Harris, said it had received reports of “intense violence” and “significant bombing”.
A recurring issue behind the scenes of the war has been the future of management over the Gaza Strip, assuming that Israel manages to achieve its objective of removing Hamas from the game. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanuyahu, has frequently spoken out about his intentions. Earlier this week, he stated that Israel would have “overall security responsibility” for the territory. Days later, he considered that he does not intend to govern Gaza, only to see it “demilitarized, deradicalized and rebuilt”. “We do not seek to conquer, occupy or govern Gaza,” he said.
The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said this Friday (10) that the entity is ready to assume responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, as part of a comprehensive political solution in the territory and also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The solution, according to him, must include the creation of a Palestinian State — something foreseen by international agreements since the post-war period, 75 years ago, when the State of Israel was created, and never materialized.
(With information from Al Jazeera, The Washington Post and Folha de S.Paulo)
Editing: Leandro Melito