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Air strikes pound Gaza City as Israeli ground forces battle Hamas near hospital

Gaza City has again been pounded by Israeli air strikes (Leo Correa/AP)
Gaza City has again been pounded by Israeli air strikes (Leo Correa/AP) Gaza City has again been pounded by Israeli air strikes (Leo Correa/AP)

Israeli strikes pounded Gaza City overnight and into Sunday as ground forces battled Hamas militants near the territory’s largest hospital, where health officials say thousands of medics, patients and displaced people are trapped with no electricity and dwindling supplies.

In a televised address on Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected growing international calls for a ceasefire unless it includes the release of all 239 hostages captured by Hamas in the October 7 rampage that triggered the war, saying Israel is bringing its “full force” to the battle.

Israel has vowed to end Hamas’s 16-year rule in Gaza and crush its military capabilities, while blaming the militants for the war’s heavy toll on the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in the besieged territory.

Israel has come under mounting international pressure, even from its closest ally the United States, as the war enters a sixth week. A 57-nation gathering of Muslim and Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Saturday called for the war to end.

In Gaza City, residents reported heavy air strikes and shelling overnight, including in the area around Shifa Hospital. Israel, without providing evidence, has accused Hamas of concealing a command post inside and under the hospital compound – allegations denied by Hamas and hospital staff.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected growing international calls for a ceasefire (Christophe Ena/AP)

“We spent the night in panic waiting for their arrival,” said Ahmed al-Boursh, a resident taking shelter in the hospital. “They are outside, not far from the gates.”

The hospital’s last generator ran out of fuel on Saturday, causing the deaths of three premature babies and four other patients, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. It said another 36 babies are at risk of death because there is no electricity.

Health Ministry spokesman Munir al-Boursh said Israeli snipers have deployed around Shifa, firing at any movement inside the compound. He said air strikes have destroyed several homes next to the hospital, killing a doctor, his son and son-in-law.

“There are wounded in the house, and we can’t reach them,” he told Al Jazeera television in an interview from the hospital. “We can’t stick our heads out of the window.”

Israel’s military said there is a safe corridor for civilians to evacuate from Shifa to southern Gaza, but people sheltering in the hospital said they are afraid to go outside. The military said troops will assist in moving babies on Sunday, and it is in contact with hospital staff.

It is not possible to independently ascertain the situation in and around the hospital.

The Health Ministry says there are still 1,500 patients at Shifa, along with 1,500 medical personnel and between 15,000 and 20,000 people seeking shelter. Thousands have fled Shifa and other hospitals that have come under attack, but doctors said it is impossible for everyone to get out.

The “unbearably desperate situation” at Shifa must stop now, the International Committee of the Red Cross director general, Robert Mardini, said on social media.

Palestinians flee
Palestinians flee Palestinians flee on foot to the southern Gaza Strip (Fatima Shbair/AP)

Elsewhere, the Palestinian Red Crescent said another Gaza City hospital, Al-Quds, is “no longer operational” because it has run out of fuel. Gaza’s sole power plant was forced to shut down a month ago, and Israel has barred any fuel imports, saying Hamas would use them for military purposes.

Nebal Farsakh, a spokesman for the Red Crescent, said 6,000 people, including displaced families, patients and medical staff, remain trapped in the hospital.

With Shifa and other hospitals now inaccessible, people sheltering in Gaza City said they are cut off from emergency care.

Heba Mashlah, who was sheltering at a UN compound along with thousands of families, said a strike late on Saturday killed four people and wounded 15. “The wounded are bleeding, and no-one is able to come and help them,” she said.

In his address, Mr Netanyahu said the responsibility for any harm to civilians lies with Hamas. Israel has long accused the group, which operates in dense residential neighbourhoods, of using civilians as human shields.

He also began to outline Israel’s post-war plans for Gaza, which contrast sharply with the vision put forward by the United States.

Mr Netanyahu said Gaza would be demilitarised and that Israel would retain security control, with the ability to enter Gaza freely to hunt down militants.

He also rejected the idea that the Palestinian Authority, which currently administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, would at some stage control Gaza. Hamas drove the authority’s forces out of Gaza in a week of street battles in 2007.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington opposes an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza and envisions a unified Palestinian government in both Gaza and the West Bank as a step towards Palestinian statehood. Even before the war, Mr Netanyahu’s government was staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood.

Injured man
Injured man The situation at Shifa hospital is said to be ‘unbearably desperate’

Israel’s allies have defended the country’s right to protect itself after the Hamas attack, which killed at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians. But now into the second month of war, there are growing differences over how Israel should conduct its fight.

The US has pushed for temporary pauses that would allow for wider distribution of badly needed aid to civilians in the besieged territory where conditions are increasingly dire. However, Israel has only agreed to brief daily periods during which civilians can flee the area of ground combat in northern Gaza and head south on foot along two main north-south roads.

Since these evacuation windows were first announced a week ago, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the north. But Israel is striking what it says are militant targets across central and southern Gaza as well, often killing women and children.

The war has displaced over two-thirds of Gaza’s population, with most fleeing south. Egypt has allowed hundreds of foreign passport holders and medical patients to exit through its Rafah crossing. It has also allowed hundreds of trucks loaded with food and medicine – but no fuel – to enter, but aid workers say it is nowhere near enough to meet the mounting needs.

More than 11,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and minors, have been killed since the war began, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths. About 2,700 people have been reported missing and are thought to be trapped or dead under the rubble.

Forty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the ground offensive began, and Palestinians have continued firing rockets into Israel. Hamas is still holding scores of captives – men, women and children – after releasing four women last month. A fifth captive was rescued by Israeli forces.