Shifa Hospital patients, staff and displaced leave the compound


KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Patients, staff and displaced people left Gaza's largest hospital Saturday, health officials said, leaving behind only a skeleton crew to care for those too sick to move and Israeli forces in control of the facility.

The exodus from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City came the same day internet and phone service was restored to the Gaza Strip, ending a telecommunications blackout that forced the United Nations to shut down critical humanitarian aid deliveries because it was unable to coordinate its convoys.

Attacks continued in the south of the Gaza Strip, with an Israeli airstrike hitting a residential building on the outskirts of the town of Khan Younis.

Israel has shown photos and video of weapons caches that its soldiers found in the hospital. The U.S. has said it has intelligence to support Israel's claim that Hamas set up its main command center in and under the hospital, which has multiple buildings over an area of several city blocks. 

On Saturday, the military said it had been asked by the hospital’s director to help those who would like to leave do so by a secure route.

The military said it did not order any evacuation, and that medical personnel were being allowed to remain in the hospital to support patients who cannot be moved.

After it appeared the evacuation was mostly complete, Dr. Ahmed Mokhallalati, a Shifa physician, said on social media that there were some 120 patients remaining who were unable to leave and that he and five other doctors were staying behind to care for them.

Israel has said hospitals in northern Gaza were a key target of its ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas, claiming they were used as militant command centers and weapons depots.

Israeli troops have encircled or entered several hospitals, while others stopped functioning because of dwindling supplies and loss of electricity.

The war, now in its seventh week, was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted some 240 men, women and children. Fifty-two soldiers have been killed since the Israeli offensive began.

More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.

Gaza’s main power plant shut down early in the war and Israel has cut off electricity. That makes fuel necessary to power the generators needed to run not only the telecommunications network, but water treatment plants, sanitation facilities, hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

The Palestinian telecommunications provider said it was able to restart its generators after the U.N. donated fuel.

Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for the agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said 31,700 gallons of fuel arrived Saturday, meant to last for two days, after Israel agreed Friday to allow in that amount for the U.N.'s use. It is also allowing another 2,642 gallons to keep the telecommunications systems running.

Thousands of marchers — including families of more than 50 hostages — snaked along a main Israeli highway Saturday on their last leg of a five-day walk from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Calling on the government to do more to rescue some 240 hostages held by Hamas, they planned to rally outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house later in the day.

A spokesperson for the families, Liat Bell Sommer, said two members of Israel’s wartime Cabinet, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, had agreed to meet with them. She added it was not yet clear whether Netanyahu would as well.

Israel has signaled plans to expand its offensive south while continuing operations in the north.

In Khan Younis, the attack early Saturday hit Hamad City, a middle-class housing development built in recent years with funding from Qatar. 

Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it is targeting Hamas and trying to avoid harm to civilians.

Most of Gaza’s population is now sheltering in the south, including hundreds of thousands of people who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate Gaza City and the north to get out of the way of its ground offensive.

Elsewhere, the Israeli military said its aircraft struck what it described as a hideout for militants in the urban refugee camp of Balata in the occupied West Bank.

The military alleged that those targeted had planned to carry out imminent attacks on Israeli civilians and military targets.

The deaths raised to 212 the number of Palestinians killed in West Bank violence since the Gaza war erupted on Oct. 7, making it the deadliest period in the territory since the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.