December 18, 2023 - The head of the UN health agency Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has spoken out against the “effective destruction” of a hospital in northern Gaza by Israeli forces over the weekend, leading to the deaths of eight patients including a nine-year-old child.

People fleeing fighting in Gaza continue to search for safe places to shelter in the enclave.
People fleeing fighting in Gaza continue to search for safe places to shelter in the enclave. © UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

Kamal Adwan Hospital was raided by the Israeli military over four days last week and the World Health Organization (WHO) said that many health workers were reportedly detained.

“Gaza’s health system was already on its knees and the loss of another even minimally functioning hospital is a severe blow,” Tedros wrote on social platform X.

Less than a third of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are at least partially functional, including only one in the enclave’s north.

“Attacks on hospitals, health personnel and patients must end. Ceasefire NOW,” Tedros insisted.

Displaced persons’ tents ‘bulldozed’

The WHO chief said that many patients at Kamal Adwan had to self-evacuate “at great risk to their health and safety” while ambulances were unable to reach the facility.

UN humanitarian affairs coordination office OCHA said in an update that on Saturday Israeli forces withdrew from the hospital and according to media reports “an Israeli military bulldozer flattened the tents of a number of internally displaced persons outside the hospital, killing and wounding an unconfirmed number of people”.

Tedros said on X that WHO is “extremely concerned” for the well-being of those displaced people.

According to OCHA the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah has called for an investigation into the incident. OCHA also quoted the Israeli army as saying that it had detained 90 people as part of the operation and “found weapons and munitions inside the hospital”.

Communications blackout

Due to a telecommunications and internet blackout in Gaza which started last Thursday and continued into the weekend, OCHA stressed that its latest update on the humanitarian situation in the Strip provided only “limited” information from the past 24 hours.

Gaza’s health authorities have not updated their casualty numbers since the start of the blackout, which at that point stood at 18,787 fatalities and over 50,000 people injured since 7 October.

The UN Office reported continuing “heavy Israeli bombardments” across the Strip over the weekend in particular in Khan Younis in the south and in several areas of Gaza city in the north.

Intense fighting raged between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in Khan Younis and Rafah, as well as continued firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups into Israel, OCHA said.

Second border crossing opens for aid

The humanitarian situation in the enclave remains desperate as most of the population is displaced, crowded into a small area in the south, facing dire sanitary conditions and lacking food and water.

The Kerem Shalom border crossing. (file)
The Kerem Shalom border crossing. (file) © UNOCHA

Hopes for a scale-up of aid deliveries saw a boost with the announcement on Friday of the opening of the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, which was welcomed by the aid community.

The crossing reportedly opened on Sunday for the first time since 7 October. Up until this moment only the Rafah border crossing in the south had been open since deliveries resumed on 21 October.

“The fast implementation of this agreement will increase the flow of aid,” UN emergency relief chief Martin Griffiths, who heads OCHA, said in reaction to the development, “but what the people in Gaza need most is an end to this war”.