Israel bombed Gaza’s Al-Wafa Hospital from the air on Wednesday, saying it was being used as a Hamas command center and rocket-launching site.
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The hospital was empty, after its patients and medical staff had left on July 17. Contrary to reports, militants had not been in the hospital before its evacuation.
The Israel Defense Forces said the strike was aimed at “specific terror targets within the hospital compound.” It said Hamas operatives had fired at IDF forces in recent days from the compound, using light weapons and anti-tank fire “which increased in recent hours, endangering our troops.”
The IDF tweeted that a rocket had been fired from the hospital and accompanied the tweet by a photograph on which the rocket’s “launching point” had been marked. However, members of Solidarity International who stayed in the hospital between July 11-17 as a human shield claimed the building in the photo marked “Al-Wafa” hospital is in fact not the hospital at all but the [building of the ] Right to Life Society.
Al-Wafa Hospital is Gaza’s only rehabilitation hospital and most of its patients were disabled, paralyzed or in a coma, without relatives to look after them and in need of constant care and supervision.
The IDF started bombing the hospital with warning missiles on July 11, demanding that patients be evacuated. A missile hit the hospital’s fourth floor, which was empty. On July 17, the hospital was bombed with four more warning missiles, one of which penetrated from the roof to the lower floors, wounding some of the medical staff lightly.
After the missile, the army started firing at the hospital. At some point, in coordination with the Red Cross, the IDF agreed to stop firing for two hours to enable the hospital’s evacuation. Since then it has been empty.
IDF sources said the hospital compound was used to operate the command center of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel had repeatedly warned international organizations, the Palestinian hospital director directly and “other Palestinian officials” about the intention to bombard the hospital.
On Wednesday, the Palestinians reported finding the bodies of 19 people, including a 12-year-old boy, who had been killed in the past 24 hours in IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip.
A social activist in Gaza told Haaretz that the IDF had fired massive artillery fire at the Gaza Strip’s eastern sector. The number of fatalities since the beginning of the fighting has reached 650, 161 of them children, 66 women and 35 adults. The number of wounded people exceeds 4,000.
Al-Wafa Hospital director Dr. Basman Alashi said following Israel’s air strike, “The hospital is empty of patients and staff.” He said that on July 14 the remaining patients were transferred to another hospital in Gaza, out of fear for their safety.
“Israel has targeted our hospital based on false and misleading claims. They are targeting medical facilities, the wounded, the sick and our children, all over the Gaza Strip,” Alashi said in a news statement. “They want us to know that nowhere is safe.”
Alashi said none of the staff has access to the hospital, as the area was declared a closed military zone. “I hope things calm down as soon as possible. It’s painful to see what’s happening and that the hospital has become a target for military attacks,” he said.
Palestinian sources reported many fatalities and dozens of casualties after a massive Israeli shelling in the area of H’zaa village, east of Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. Some of the wounded people evacuated from the area said many people were hurt but the rescue teams couldn’t get to them under the heavy fire.
Intensive IDF activity continued in the Shejaija neighborhood along the Strip’s eastern border, it was reported.
A senior IDF officer said the IDF bombed 20 targets in Gaza on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday. The IDF denied reports that it had bombed the home of Hamas’ military branch leader, Mohammed Deif.
No more than 30 Palestinians have come to the field hospital set up at the Erez terminal for medical treatment so far, IDF sources said.