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Trapped Palestinians say Israeli order to evacuate Gaza hospital is impossible under bombardment

“They ask people to evacuate themselves with no transportation, with no fuel, no cars,” one aid worker said. “How are they going to make it?”
Image: People wait outside Gaza City's Al-Quds Hospital
People wait outside Gaza City's Al-Quds Hospital on Sunday as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its fourth week.Khoder al-Zaanoun / AFP - Getty Images

ASHDOD, Israel — The Israeli military has ordered administrators of Al-Quds Hospital in northern Gaza to evacuate the facility immediately, aid workers say, but the workers insist that the thousands of civilians who have taken shelter there have no safe way to leave and nowhere to go.

The hospital received at least two calls on Sunday morning from the Israeli military telling them to evacuate, with doctors, nurses and other medical workers also receiving individual calls through Monday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

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The warning was quickly reinforced by devastating airstrikes both days, some of which aid workers said struck less than 200 feet from the hospital, which is packed with thousands of terrified Palestinians seeking refuge in its corridors, while medical staff continued to treat approximately 400 patients.

Despite the threat, hardly any of the Palestinians hiding inside are heeding the warnings to leave, said Lynn Hastings, a U.N. humanitarian coordinator.

"For people who can't evacuate because they have nowhere to go or are unable to move, advance warnings make no difference," Hastings said in a statement.

Image: People wait outside Gaza City's Al-Quds Hospital
People wait outside Gaza City's Al-Quds Hospital on Sunday, as battles between Israel and Hamas enter their fourth week.Khoder al-Zaanoun / AFP - Getty Images

Nebal Farsakh, a spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told NBC News by telephone Monday that some 14,000 people are trapped inside the hospital.

“They ask people to evacuate themselves with no transportation, with no fuel, no cars," Farsakh said of the Israelis. "How are they going to make it?”

On Tuesday, she said the airstrikes had continued throughout Monday and overnight.

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The Israel Defense Forces have ordered residents in the northern parts of the Palestinian territory to leave and move south in preparation for ground attacks aimed at ousting Hamas, a militant Palestinian organization designated a terror group by the U.S., the E.U. and other nations. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a multipronged terror attack that left more than 1,400 people dead in Israel.

Israel began heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza soon afterward, and in the past several days tanks and troops have moved into positions around Gaza City.

Many patients just can't be moved right now, the International Federation of Red Cross said in a statement Sunday, adding that it was "deeply alarmed" that administrators have "been told to immediately evacuate the hospital."

An ambulance in the northern Gaza strip sustained heavy damage after intense bombardment early Monday local time.
An ambulance in northern Gaza sustained heavy damage after intense bombardment early Monday.Palestine Red Crescent

"Evacuating patients, including those in intensive care, on life support and babies in incubators, is close to, if not impossible in the current situation," the IFRC said. "Our teams also report violent attacks and shelling very close to the hospital further endangering people."

The same tragic scenario is being played out across the overcrowded Palestinian territory, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have been displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A total of 10 hospitals still serving patients in Gaza City and the rest of northern Gaza have been told repeatedly to evacuate, the agency said, despite the fact that thousands of patients and medical staff, as well as about 117,000 internally displaced residents, are staying in these facilities.

Asked to confirm it had issued warnings calls to Al-Quds Hospital and to confirm reports of airstrikes in the area, an IDF spokesperson said: “We can say that we’ve been asking everyone in the north to evacuate south now for three weeks.”

“We can’t really comment about future attacks with what will happen in the area,” they said.

The hospital is north of Wadi Gaza, which is the line from where Israel has urged Gazans to flee south as it ramps up attacks on Hamas positions.

Footage from Al-Quds Hospital from the Palestine Red Crescent Society showed the hospital corridors packed with families, including elderly people and young children sleeping on the floor or on mattresses, and with whatever belongings they escaped with strung up on door knobs. People were also filmed sleeping outside the hospital entrance.

Other hospitals in Gaza have also become refuges for Palestinians caught between Hamas and the IDF, according to OCHA. And the neighborhoods around the Indonesian Hospital, in Beit Lahia, and Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, have also been hit by airstrikes, the agency reported.

Since the start of the war, over one-third of hospitals in Gaza (12 out of 35) and nearly two-thirds of primary health care clinics (46 of 72), have been shut down due to damage or because of fuel shortage, according to OCHA.

Israel instituted a full blockade of Gaza after the attacks; recently, some trucks have brought in aid, but fuel remains a controversial commodity because Israel has said it fears it will end in Hamas' hands. Some communications are also returning to Gaza after a complete blackout for nearly two days.

Earlier in the conflict, Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was rocked by an explosion that U.S. spy agencies said was a rocket misfired by Palestinian militants, though it was not clear which group within Gaza was responsible. Initially, the Israeli military was wrongly blamed for the rocket misfire.

The orders to evacuate Al-Quds Hospital come amid a mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where most residents have been living without power, access to fresh water or food and cut off from the rest of the world due to internet service interruptions.

Farsakh, from the Palestine Red Crescent Society, said colleagues at the hospital told her the inability to communicate with the outside world made the past weekend one of the “hardest” experiences they've ever had.

“At least feeling that your voice is heard, like someone can hear you,” Farsakh said. “It will not save your life, but at least you feel like if anything happens to you, it makes you feel better at least.”

So far, more than 8,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the fighting broke out between Hamas and Israel, including at least 3,324 children and 2,062 women, according to figures provided to the U.N. by Gaza’s Ministry of Health. An estimated 20,242 people have been injured.

The Save the Children organization said in a statement Sunday that the number of children reported killed in Gaza in the past three weeks has reached "epic proportions" and surpassed the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones since 2019.

OCHA estimated 1,800 people, including at least 940 children, remain missing and Palestinian health officials fear they may be trapped or dead under the rubble.

The U.N. reported that rescue teams, primarily from the Palestinian Civil Defense, are “struggling to carry out their missions, amid continuous airstrikes, severe shortage of fuel to run vehicles and equipment.”

Meanwhile, at least 33 trucks carrying desperately needed water, food and medical supplies made it into Gaza on Sunday from Egypt via the Rafah crossing, and another 26 supply trucks arrived in the Palestinian territory on Monday, according to Palestine Red Crescent Society.

While that delivery marked the largest delivery of humanitarian aid since the fighting erupted, it was still far short of the 104 trucks a day that would deliver food to the blockaded Gaza Strip, according to the charitable organization Oxfam.

Other nongovernmental organizations have estimated that 400 trucks daily are needed to service the needs of people in the densely populated Palestinian enclave, whose economy has been crippled by a 16-year blockade enforced by Israel and supported by Egypt. 

“Every day the situation worsens," Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s regional Middle East director, said in a statement. "Children are experiencing severe trauma from the constant bombardment. Their drinking water is polluted or rationed, and soon families may not be able to feed them too. How much more are the Gazans expected to endure?”

Chantal Da Silva reported from Israel; Yasmine Salam and Corky Siemaszko reported from New York City.