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Battle rages at Gaza's largest hospital as Qatar hosts truce talks


Israel have continued their offensive on the Gaza Strip with peace talks resuming on Monday. /Said Khatib/AFP
Israel have continued their offensive on the Gaza Strip with peace talks resuming on Monday. /Said Khatib/AFP

Israel have continued their offensive on the Gaza Strip with peace talks resuming on Monday. /Said Khatib/AFP

Israeli forces launched an operation early on Monday (March 18) in and around Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, with reports of air strikes and tanks near the complex crowded with patients and displaced people.

The pre-dawn raid came at a time of growing concern over a looming Israeli ground invasion of Gaza's crowded far-southern city of Rafah, and as international mediators and envoys prepared to meet in Qatar to revive stalled truce talks.

A meeting between Israel's Mossad chief David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani and Egyptian officials is expected to take place on Monday. An Israeli official said the talks with Hamas are designed to secure a six-week Gaza truce in return for the Palestinian militants freeing 40 hostages.

This stage of the negotiations could take at least two weeks, the official estimated, citing difficulties that Hamas's foreign delegates may have in communicating with the group in the besieged enclave after more than five months of war.

Israel launched Monday's raid based on what the army termed intelligence "indicating the use of the hospital by senior Hamas terrorists" with its military telling Gazans to immediately evacuate from Al-Shifa in Gaza City. 

Witnesses said the Israeli forces had dropped Arabic-language leaflets with the same evacuation instructions and a warning they were "in a dangerous combat zone."


The health ministry of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said residents near the hospital in the largely devastated city had reported dozens of casualties who could not be helped "due to the intensity of gunfire and artillery shelling."

The Hamas government media office condemned as a "war crime" the "storming of the Al-Shifa medical complex with tanks, drones and weapons, and shooting inside", where thousands of displaced Palestinians were sheltering. The army and the Shin Bet security service said Israeli troops had "identified terrorist fire toward them from a number of hospital buildings. The forces engaged the terrorists and identified several hits."

Israel's military also said troops had been told to "avoid harm to the patients, civilians, medical staff and medical equipment," with Arabic speakers deployed to "facilitate dialogue with the patients remaining in the hospital."

The army had previously raided Al-Shifa in mid-November, sparking an international outcry, in an operation in which it said its troops had found weapons and other military equipment in rooms in and below the hospital.


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The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures. The Islamist militants also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

Israel, vowing to destroy Hamas and free the captives, has carried out a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive that Gaza's health ministry says has killed at least 31,726 people, most of them women and children.

An Israeli siege that cut off water, electricity, fuel and basic supplies has brought large-scale shortages in the territory of 2.4 million people that the UN warns is on the brink of famine.  

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has again vowed, in the face of growing global concern, that the army will finish its operation to destroy Hamas, before or after any truce. Netanyahu's warnings of a looming ground invasion have raised fears the civilians would be in the line of fire, sparking warnings of a potential "slaughter."

Israel's top ally the U.S., which has provided it with billions of dollars in military assistance, has stressed it wants to see a "clear and implementable plan" to ensure civilians are "out of harm's way."

Battle rages at Gaza's largest hospital as Qatar hosts truce talks

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Source(s): Reuters ,AFP
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