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Al-Shifa carnage: How Gaza’s largest hospital turned into haunting cemetery

By Maryam Qarehgozlou

“Al-Shifa Medical Complex, the heart of Gaza’s health service, has been completely destroyed without leaving a single needle for good use,” Ahmed Kouta, a nurse who worked at Gaza’s largest medical facility said after the Israeli military withdrew from there after two weeks.

“Every piece of the hospital has become trash.”

Israeli military’s two-week siege of al-Shifa Hospital left a trail of death and destruction at the medical facility, which Ramy Abdu, the head of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, called “a massacre of unprecedented scale, annihilating not just lives but also the very fabric of the environment.”

Footage that emerged from the hospital showed the complex lying in ruins after two weeks of relentless bombings and siege. According to witnesses, hundreds of bodies were found inside the hospital in western Gaza and the streets surrounding it, many of them in a decomposed state.

“The number of victims is beyond quantification. The casualties exceed those of the combined massacres of Deir Yassin, Khan Younis 1956, and Tantura,” Abdu posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“All the departments inside the hospital have been burned,” Kouta said in a video he shared on his Instagram account, showing the buildings inside the complex in ruins.

Inside the hospital, footage showed the roof collapsed in places. Debris was scattered everywhere, including broken medical equipment, twisted metal, and fragments of concrete.

Kouta also showed the lifeless bodies scattered outside the health facility. The once bustling medical complex wore a grim look, filled with human remains in various stages of decay.

“All around the al-Shifa hospital, its surroundings, and streets around the hospitals, there are bodies like this. This is all due to the airstrikes, and the gunshots that have been taking place around the hospital for the past 14 days,” he noted.

Other footage from the site showed bodies lying twisted and contorted, some partially buried under the rubble, while others exposed, their flesh discolored and bloated from decomposition.

‘No sense of life’

According to witnesses, Israeli bulldozers also plowed over a makeshift cemetery inside the hospital compound, where patients, medical workers and displaced people were sheltering inside.

Yahia Abu Auf, a Gaza resident, who also saw bodies crushed and run over by the Israeli military tanks and military bulldozers, described the situation as “indescribable.”

“The occupation destroyed all sense of life here,” he said, referring to the scale of the tragedy.

Ismail Al-Thawabta, director of the Gaza media office, said what happened in the coastal Palestinian territory’s most prominent and biggest health facility was “a crime against humanity.”

“The occupation destroyed and burned all buildings inside the al-Shifa medical complex. They bulldozed the courtyards, burying dozens of bodies of martyrs in the rubble, turning the place into a mass graveyard,” he said in a statement.

Gaza Health Ministry described the scale of death and destruction inside the complex as “very large,” saying the hospital is now “completely out of service.”

Gaza’s Civil Defense reported that medical crews have so far found at least 300 bodies, including people whose hands and feet were tied, and are working to recover hundreds of bodies scattered across the grounds at the hospital.

It added that determining the precise number of people killed is difficult because Israeli troops had buried bodies inside and around the complex and bulldozed nearby roads.

“The situation is very bad,” Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesperson for Gaza’s Civil Defense, said on Monday. “It is completely destroyed and burned down. Many of its buildings are totally destroyed or charred.”

According to the Gaza media office, Israeli forces put the medical facility out of use and killed 400 Palestinians around the hospital in Gaza City, including doctor Ahmad al-Maqadmeh, a renowned reconstructive surgeon and his mother, Yusra al-Maqadmeh, a general practitioner.

Al-Maqadmeh was a father of two and had won the prestigious Humanitarian Surgery Innovation fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said Sunday that 21 patients had died in the hospital since Israel began its siege two weeks ago.

More than 100 patients were still trapped inside the compound, at least 28 in critical condition, he added.

“Among the patients are four children, lacking necessary means of care – no diapers, urine bags, water to clean wounds,” Ghebreyesus wrote. “Many have infected wounds and are dehydrated. Since yesterday only one bottle of water remains for every 15 people.”

‘Largest massacre in Palestine’s history’

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, a Geneva-based rights group, said in a report on Monday that Israel’s “massive” and “horrific” raid into al-Shifa was one of the “largest massacres in Palestinian history.”

It is estimated that over 1,500 Palestinians have been killed, injured, or are reported missing as a result of the “massacre” at al-Shifa, with women and children making up half of the casualties.

“Euro-Med Monitor is able to confirm from its initial investigation and testimonies that hundreds of dead bodies, including some burned, and others with their heads and limbs severed, have been discovered both inside Al-Shifa Medical Complex and in the hospital’s surrounding area,” read the report, which triggered a wave of anger and outrage.

It also said that the Israeli military “purposefully” cleared the complex of all working personnel—particularly medical personnel—either by summary execution or forced displacement or arrest and prevented relief teams from carrying out humanitarian missions or evacuations at the hospital.

The report noted that the Israeli military forced more than 25,000 Palestinian civilians to evacuate their homes in the vicinity of al-Shifa, and demolished and set ablaze over 1,200 housing units in the area.

“The Israeli army committed the Al-Shifa Medical Complex massacre with the utmost disregard for international humanitarian law, particularly its rules pertaining to distinction, proportionality, and military necessity; respect for the unique protections enjoyed by civilian hospitals and medical teams; protection for civilians; protection for the sick and wounded.”

Abdu in a post on X called the Israeli army a “gang of human monsters.”

“This army burned down hospital buildings and hundreds of residential units around them, its tanks ran over the bodies of civilians, and it executed dozens, including children,” he wrote.

A ‘deliberate’ massacre

The military offensive launched by Israel in the aftermath of Hamas’ Al-Aqsa Storm Operation nearly six months ago has so far killed an estimated 33,000 people in Gaza, including at least 340 health workers, according to Gaza’s health authorities.

Israel’s relentless bombardment of the besieged territory has reduced swaths of the territory to rubble, destroying 70 percent of the civil infrastructure, displacing more than 85 percent of the 2.3 million population, and making the place virtually uninhabitable.

On March 18, the Israeli military began the deadly raid on al-Shifa, which housed three specialized hospitals with a combined clinical capacity of 800 beds.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said about 3,000 people were inside the hospital when the raid began. The Israeli military claimed it was targeting Hamas resistance fighters who were using the complex as a base, a claim that was not backed by evidence.

Since the war began on October 7, the Israeli military has made similar claims justifying its raids on civilian buildings, including hospitals, schools, universities and refugee camps.

While the Israeli military insisted that the raid on the hospital had been conducted by “preventing harm to civilians, patients and medical teams” Palestinians who fled the facility described days of heavy fighting, mass arrests, torture, and siege for two weeks without any medical supplies food or water.

Mohammad Sukkar, a 27-year-old man who was volunteering at al-Shifa when Israel launched its assault, was quoted as saying that Israeli soldiers made the men sheltering inside the hospital strip and held their hands above their heads and then handcuffed and blindfolded them.

“For four days, we were shackled in the cold in the hospital courtyard without food or water,” he said.

“If we asked for anything, the soldiers shouted at us, kicked us with their boots, spat at us, and insulted us with the most horrific words,” Sukkar added.

Israeli soldiers finally released them and forced them to move south without their clothes or belongings.

Raed al-Nims, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, said many of the civilians at al-Shifa were deliberately executed by Israeli soldiers, citing eyewitness accounts.

“Many of the civilians were executed. They were killed by the Israeli occupation forces, including medical staff, doctors and nurses; they were purposefully executed by the Israeli soldiers,” he said.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, so far Israel has not produced any documentation to justify or validate its massive raids on hospitals that are “flagrant violations” of international humanitarian law.

Systematic targeting of Gaza healthcare

Craig Murray, a historian and human rights activist, in a post on X on Monday called the raid on al-Shifa a “systematic” destruction of health facilities and urged a “military action” against Israel to stop it.

“The details coming out today of the massacre in al-Shifa hospital are simply incredible. Surgeons executed. Children executed. Bodies mutilated. Medical facilities systematically destroyed,” he wrote.

“Forget sanctions, there needs to be international military action against Israel. Now.”

Ghassan Abu Sitta, a Palestinian plastic and reconstructive surgeon who worked in many Gaza hospitals, said Israel aims to make Gaza “uninhabitable” by attacking healthcare facilities.

“Al-Shifa Hospital constituted 30% of the capacity of the health system in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis have blown up or torched all its buildings to ensure that it is irreparable and needs to be rebuilt from scratch. The aim was and remains making Gaza uninhabitable. Genocide,” he wrote on X

Also in a press release on Tuesday, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) which works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees, warned that the destruction of al-Shifa is the latest evidence that the Israeli military is “systematically dismantling the healthcare system in Gaza.”

It said that the hospital’s main surgery building, its intensive care unit, and emergency, general surgery, and orthopedic departments have all been destroyed.

Dr. Tayseer al-Tanna, a vascular surgeon now working at al-Ahli, after fleeing Shifa Hospital, told MAP that 15 of the 60 patients who were transferred to al-Ahli Hospital after the siege ended in al-Shifa needed limb amputations, at least 10 of which were only necessary because the patients were without any proper medical care during the Israeli military’s siege of al-Shifa.

Dr. Tayseer said he had never witnessed such levels of destruction in his life before and that rebuilding the hospital could take more than 20 years.

According to MAP, following the destruction of al-Shifa, at least 350,000 Palestinians in the north only have 200 hospital beds, with Kamal Adwan and al-Ahli hospitals operating at just 30 percent and 70 percent capacity, respectively, and lacking specialist services that were available at al-Shifa.

Dr Tanya Haj-Hassan, who has just returned from Gaza, also said that the raid on al-Shifa amounted to a “direct targeting of healthcare workers.”

“To say that this [attacking hospitals] is a strategic targeting of Hamas is an insult to our intellect and our humanity. This is the destruction of people who heal. This is a direct targeting of healthcare workers, […] it is a direct and systematic targeting of health care that is unjustifiable.” she said.

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