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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: WHO says al-Shifa hospital a 'bloodbath'

Published December 17, 2023last updated December 17, 2023

A WHO team visited the northern Gaza hospital and found patients being treated on the floor. Meanwhile, Israel's prime minister has hinted at a possible new hostage release deal.

A woman reacts as medics transport a man injured in bombardment, at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip
The WHO and others have warned hospitals in Gaza are overcrowded and there are not enough medical supplies to deal with all the wounded Image: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • The World Health Organization says Gaza's al-Shifa hospital needs urgent support
  • Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up military pressure against Hamas militants
  • German and British foreign ministers have called for a sustainable cease-fire
  • Israel has opened the Kerem Shalom border crossing for trucks to enter Gaza directly

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Skip next section WHO coordinator tells DW about what he saw at al-Shifa hospital
December 17, 2023

WHO coordinator tells DW about what he saw at al-Shifa hospital

Sean Casey, an emergency medical teams coordinator for the World Health Organization (WHO) spoke to DW about the current state of hospitals and health services in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, highlighting the precarious situation facing health service providers and civilians caught up in the war raging between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas.

Asked what he had seen at Gaza's al-Shifa Hospital, Casey said: "We found a hospital that's completely overwhelmed. We saw patients coming in every 30 to 60 seconds on donkey carts, on trolleys, with very serious injuries. The hospital was previously the largest referral hospital in Gaza with 750 beds and a very busy emergency ward. At the moment, hospital leadership has indicated that they have only 5 or 6 doctors, 5 or 6 nurses and about 70 volunteers."

Asked what could be done to alleviate suffering, he replied: "Very little, but we hope to change that."

"Al-Shifa," he said, "previously had 20 operating theaters, none of them are currently working. They're running dialysis machines 24 hours a day on a backup generator. But they're not able to come close to meeting demand."

"What we're seeing in all of the hospitals in Gaza is that they're at 200, 300, even 400% of their normal capacity, and that they're running those numbers, supporting that number of patients, with 50% or 25% of their normal personnel. Huge numbers of people here have been displaced."

When DW asked how many of those injured were Hamas fighters and how many civilians, Casey replied: "I saw young and old, men and women… pregnant women. I saw, unfortunately, children receiving sutures, stitches, without any anesthetic. People wailing out in pain. So it doesn't matter who these people are, they're injured."

Casey noted that al-Shifa was so full of patients that "there was hardly any room to walk."

When asked what was currently needed, Casey said, "the optimal solution to this is peace… is a ceasefire."

Al-Shifa hospital 'completely overwhelmed': Sean Casey, WHO

Skip next section Pope Francis mourns the death of 'defenseless civilians' in Gaza
December 17, 2023

Pope Francis mourns the death of 'defenseless civilians' in Gaza

Pope Francis on Sunday again used the term "terrorism" to describe Israel's actions in Gaza, deploring the reported killing of two Christian women who had taken refuge in a church complex.

At his weekly address, Francis referred to a statement by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and said "defenseless civilians" were being targeted by shootings and bombings.

The Patriarchate said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) killed the two women as they walked to a convent in the compound of the Holy Family Parish.

"I continue to receive very grave and painful news from Gaza," Francis said. "Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings. And this happened even inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick or disabled, nuns."

Francis said the women were taken out by "snipers" and also highlighted the Patriarchate's statement that a convent of nuns of the order founded by Mother Teresa was damaged by Israeli tank fire.

"Some would say 'It is war. It is terrorism.' Yes, it is war. It is terrorism," he said.

Skip next section Israel, Hezbollah claim attacks on Lebanon border area
December 17, 2023

Israel, Hezbollah claim attacks on Lebanon border area

Israel's military has said it has struck weapons launch sites and facilities belonging to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it carried out airstrikes, along with artillery and tank fire, against Hezbollah launch sites, in response to cross-border fire by what it called a "terrorist cell."

Hezbollah, which like the Palestinian militant group Hamas is backed by Iran, said it had mounted several attacks against Israeli army targets on the border.

The militants said they targeted Israeli soldiers on the edges of Hanita, a kibbutz in northern Israel near the Lebanese border, which caused casualties.

Hezbollah also claimed a second attack on an outpost manned by Israeli soldiers in the border site of Birkar Rishah, again claiming casualties.

The border between Israel and Lebanon has seen increasingly violent confrontations since the beginning of the war on October 7, sparking fears of a larger, regional conflict.

Hezbollah — a political party with a military wing — is designated, wholly or in part, as a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Israel and Germany, among others.

Skip next section Israeli army says it found biggest Hamas tunnel yet
December 17, 2023

Israeli army says it found biggest Hamas tunnel yet

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they had uncovered an unusually large concrete and iron-girded tunnel used by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

It said the tunnel was located just 100 meters (109 yards) south of the Erez checkpoint, a border crossing between Israel and Gaza, concealed in a sand dune.

The IDF labeled the tunnel as a flagship Hamas project, designed to carry carloads of militant fighters from Gaza right up to the border.

The Israeli army said the tunnel had a depth of 50 meters, had electrical fittings, and was 3 meters (10 feet) in height and width.

Israeli soldiers walk through what Israel's military says is an iron-girded tunnel designed by Hamas
Israel says the tunnel came close to the Israeli borderImage: Amir Cohen/REUTERS

It was "the biggest tunnel we found in Gaza," chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said. "Millions of dollars were invested in this tunnel. It took years to build this tunnel."

The Israeli army said it had found a large number of weapons stored in the tunnel, ready to be used in an attack.

Israel has begun disabling hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels it had found in Gaza.

Earlier this month, the army said it had discovered more than 800 tunnels and destroyed 500 of them.

Israeli media reported last week that the army was planning to flood the tunnels with seawater pumped from the Mediterranean Sea.

Skip next section Mobile and internet partially restored in Gaza, telecom firm says
December 17, 2023

Mobile and internet partially restored in Gaza, telecom firm says

Mobile and internet services are gradually being restored in central and southern areas of Gaza, the territory's main telecoms company has said.

PalTel announced the development after Gaza on Thursday experienced its sixth communications blackout since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on October 7.

"We would like to announce the gradual restoration of telecom services... our field teams were able to reach and repair the main damaged site after numerous attempts in the past days," PalTel said.

Netblocks, an independent internet observatory, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that its metrics showed that internet connectivity was being restored in parts of Gaza following the three-day extended telecoms blackout.

Netblocks said the blackout was the longest since the start of the conflict and that service remains significantly below pre-conflict levels.

At times this week, connectivity was as low as 8% in the Rafah district, and less than a third in several areas of Gaza.

Skip next section Several Palestinians killed by Israel in West Bank's Tulkarm
December 17, 2023

Several Palestinians killed by Israel in West Bank's Tulkarm

At least five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack on the town of Tulkarm in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

It said the two were shot dead by Israeli forces on Sunday.

The Israeli army, meanwhile, said one of its airstrikes on Tulkarm had killed several armed Palestinians.

The military said the attackers had shot at soldiers and thrown explosive devices.

Four suspects were arrested and several weapons and explosive devices were confiscated during the operation.

In recent weeks, the Israeli military has stepped up operations against Palestinian militant groups in the West Bank, who it says are supporting Hamas in Gaza.

On Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed killing more than 10 people it called terrorists in raids in Jenin, where several militant groups have a presence.

Violence against Palestinians by Israelis living in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank has also increased since October 7.

Skip next section Germany records 4,000 criminal acts linked to Gaza war
December 17, 2023

Germany records 4,000 criminal acts linked to Gaza war

Germany's justice minister said the country has registered some 4,300 criminal offenses related to the Middle East conflict, including almost 500 acts of violence, DPA news agency reported.

Minister Marco Buschmann cited the figures on Sunday during a speech at the Jewish Community Day in Berlin.

Buschmann said the law must be strictly applied in these cases and called on federal states to prioritize securing evidence of antisemitism at pro-Palestinian demonstrations over de-escalation tactics.

Buschmann said that Stars of David were being sprayed on houses, Israeli flags were being set alight and hundreds of reports of threats of destruction and murder against Israel and Jews at demonstrations. 

This "all has an effect," he said. Jews are afraid to speak Hebrew in public or wear a kippah, he said.

Organizers of Jewish events are canceling them due to security concerns and participation in community life is declining. 

"This is the seed of hatred that is unfortunately sprouting," he said.

Buschmann said that Germany had taken steps to combat antisemitism, including banning the Palestinian militant group Hamas, while forcing the pro-Palestinian group Samidoun to disband.

He said Germany had also banned the phrase  "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" because it denies Israel's right to exist.

Buschmann has asked the European Commission to ban the online sale of T-shirts with this slogan on them.

The justice minister did not say how many of the offenses were connected to people using now-banned phrases at demonstrations.

Skip next section Israel's Kerem Shalom border with Gaza opens
December 17, 2023

Israel's Kerem Shalom border with Gaza opens

The Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and the besieged Gaza Strip opened for aid trucks on Sunday, for the first time since the conflict erupted.

The Reuters news agency cited a spokesperson from the prime minister's office as confirming that the crossing was opened.

The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, an Israeli unit concerned with the affairs of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, said in a social media statement that United Nations aid trucks will undergo security checks and be transferred directly to Gaza via the crossing as of Sunday.

The procedure comes in line with Israel's agreement with the US regarding aid to Gaza, it said.

"This will increase the daily volume of humanitarian aid entering Gaza and being delivered to the people of Gaza," COGAT added.

Previously trucks had passed through the Kerem Shalom crossing for security checks, but then still had to pass through the Rafah crossing to enter Gaza proper.

Skip next section WHO: Gaza's al-Shifa hospital a 'bloodbath'
December 17, 2023

WHO: Gaza's al-Shifa hospital a 'bloodbath'

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the emergency department at the al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza as "a bloodbath."

The UN health body said the facility, which has been devastated by Israeli bombardments, is "in need of resuscitation."

In a statement, the WHO said that "tens of thousands of displaced people are using the hospital building and grounds for shelter," and that there is "a severe shortage" of drinking water and food. 

A team from the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies was able to deliver medical supplies Saturday to the hospital, the largest in the Palestinian territory.

The team found that new patients were arriving in the emergency room all the time and that "patients with trauma injuries were being sutured on the floor [...and] no pain management is available."

The hospital is functioning at a minimal scale with very few staff.

Israeli forces entered the al-Shifa hospital last month and said they had discovered a tunnel shaft used by Hamas militants underneath the facility.

Skip next section Hamas: Hostages won't be released without new cease-fire
December 17, 2023

Hamas: Hostages won't be released without new cease-fire

The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has said it won't enter into negotiations on further prisoner exchanges without a cessation of Israeli hostilities in Gaza.

"Hamas reaffirms its stance not to conduct any negotiations to exchange prisoners unless the Zionist aggression against our people stops once and for all," the group said on Sunday, according to the dpa news agency.

Hamas, classified by multiple countries as a terrorist organization, said its position had been communicated to all involved in mediating an end to the conflict.

Qatar is currently leading talks to try and agree another humanitarian pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, which has continued since the initial terror attacks by Hamas on October 7.

High-ranking Israeli and Qatari officials have reportedly met in Norway in recent days.

An earlier cease-fire, last month, lasted a week and allowed for the release of more than a hundred hostages.

According to Israeli estimates, 112 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Protesters in Israel put pressure on government

Skip next section France's top diplomat demands 'immediate' Gaza truce
December 17, 2023

France's top diplomat demands 'immediate' Gaza truce

France's Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has called for an "immediate and durable" truce in the Gaza war.

"Too many civilians are being killed," Colonna said during remarks in Tel Aviv with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen, as Israel comes under growing international pressure over its offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Colonna also stressed that the victims of Hamas' attacks must not be forgotten, including those subjected to sexual violence.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Colonna said France stood side by side with Israel in the face of terrorism and spoke of the need to prevent the war from escalating, including to Lebanon against Hezbollah militants, who like Hamas also receive support from Iran.

Meanwhile, Cohen said "France could play a positive and significant role to prevent a war in Lebanon."

Paris on Saturday condemned an Israeli strike in Gaza that killed a French Foreign Ministry employee, demanding that "light be shed" on the circumstances.

Skip next section Israel continues strikes across Gaza
December 17, 2023

Israel continues strikes across Gaza

Israel continued to strike what it says are Hamas militant targets in all parts of Gaza on Sunday.

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, at least 12 people were killed in Israeli strikes on the central city of Deir al-Balah.

Witnesses also told the AFP news agency there were air and artillery strikes on the southern municipality of Bani Suhaila, east of Khan Younis.

Gaza remained under a communications blackout for a fourth straight day. Aid groups have said this makes rescue efforts after bombings harder and monitoring the war's impact on civilians even more challenging.

'It's a living nightmare' for people in Gaza, ICRC says

On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war in Gaza was existential and necessary "both for the return of the kidnapped and for achieving victory over our enemies."

Skip next section French diplomatic official killed in Gaza
December 17, 2023

French diplomatic official killed in Gaza

The French Foreign Ministry has said one of its diplomatic officials has died of injuries sustained during an Israeli bombing raid in the Gaza Strip.

The man had been "working for France" since 2002, the ministry said.

"He had found refuge in the house of one of his colleagues at the Consulate General of France, alongside two other colleagues and numerous members of their family," the ministry said. 

The house was hit by Israeli bombing on Wednesday, injuring the official and killing around 10 people, the statement continued. The man later died.

The ministry has condemned the bombing and demanded, "Israeli authorities shed full light on the circumstances of this bombing, as soon as possible."

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Skip next section Al Jazeera to refer killing of cameraman to ICC
December 17, 2023

Al Jazeera to refer killing of cameraman to ICC

The Qatari news outlet Al Jazeera has said it will refer what it called "the assassination" of its cameraman, Samer Abu Daqqa, to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Abu Daqqa was reportedly killed after a drone strike on Friday while reporting on an earlier bombing of a school used as a shelter for displaced people in the southern Gaza region of Khan Younis.

"Al Jazeera Media Network reiterates its denunciation and condemnation of the assassination crime of its colleague, Samer Abudaqa, who devoted 19 years with the Network to covering the ongoing conflict in the occupied Palestinian territories," the network said in a statement.

Al Jazeera has said it will also provide the ICC with additional information on "recurrent attacks on the Network's crews working and operating in the occupied Palestinian territories and instances of incitement against them."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization promoting press freedom worldwide, said on Saturday that at least 64 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza and West Bank since the war began.

Targeting journalists is a war crime, as per the Rome Statute of the ICC. 

Skip next section Baerbock, Cameron call for sustainable peace
December 17, 2023

Baerbock, Cameron call for sustainable peace

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and her British counterpart, David Cameron, have urgently called for a "sustainable peace" in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for an immediate and permanent cease-fire.

"We must do all we can to pave the way to a sustainable cease-fire, leading to a sustainable peace. The sooner it comes, the better — the need is urgent," they wrote in an op-ed in The Sunday Times.

The pair of foreign ministers also said "too many civilians have been killed" in the conflict.

However, Baerbock and Cameron also wrote that they "do not believe that calling right now for a general and immediate cease-fire, hoping it somehow becomes permanent, is the way forward.

"It ignores why Israel is forced to defend itself: Hamas barbarically attacked Israel and still fires rockets to kill Israeli citizens every day. Hamas must lay down its arms," they said.

Israel has come under pressure from its allies over the number of civilian casualties in its war in Gaza. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, the war has killed more than 18,800 people. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths but said most of the victims were women and children.

The war began after Hamas militants launched attacks on southern Israel on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas, which Israel, Germany, the United States and other governments have designated as a terrorist organization.

Dire situation for Gaza evacuees in Al-Mawasi region

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