An urgent letter sent Wednesday night by Physicians for Human Rights calls on the Israel Defense Forces to desist from bombing near the Al Wafa rehabilitation hospital in Gaza City.
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The letter was sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon after warning missiles hit the hospital last Friday, causing damage to the building. As a result, the hospital, in the a-Shuja’iyeh neighborhood, was damaged and some of the patients evacuated. But other patients, whose medical condition prevented their evacuation, remained in the hospital.
According to the letter, this is the only hospital in the Gaza Strip that specializes in treating seriously disabled or comatose patients. Hospital sources claimed that on Tuesday the hospital received a notice from the IDF, to the effect that hospital staff should evacuate patients and leave the building by 8 A.M. the next day, in light of the IDF’s intention to bomb the neighborhood. PHR, which is in contact with the hospital staff, claimed that already at 5 A.M., three hours before the end of the warning period, the nursing building in the hospital was hit, apparently by artillery fire.
Some of the patients were evacuated, but currently there are 17 patients in the hospital whose medical condition prevents evacuation. Some medical staff have remained with them, as well as foreign nationals who refuse to leave the hospital as long as there are still patients there.
Human rights activists in the hospital continue to receive recorded phone messages – which are apparently sent automatically to the entire area – to evacuate the neighborhood, in the east of the city.
The activists also say that there were no bombings near the hospital on Wednesday night. According to information from the human rights organization B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, hospital director Basman al-Ashi reported that there are 17 patients in the hospital, aged 14-95, who suffer from various degrees of paralysis.
In addition to the patients, there are presently some 30 staff members, as well as the international activists. Ashi made it clear that there is no intention of evacuating the hospital.
In the letter, PHR claims that “an attack on the hospital in this situation endangers the patients who cannot be evacuated, and is contrary to the rules of warfare and of international law. According to international humanitarian law, the claim that fighters from Hamas or other organizations are supposedly operating from within the civilian population does not in itself turn that population and civilian sites into military targets that may be attacked. This is even more true in the case of a public hospital from which some of the patients clearly cannot be evacuated.”
The group claims that the warning does not permit the army to treat the hospital as “sterile” and assume that no patients remain there, and that this assumption is liable to lead to the death of many patients and staff members.