GENEVA, Oct 17 (Reuters) – A strike on the Al-Ahli al-Arabi Hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip that killed hundreds was “unprecedented in scale,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, condemning the attack.
The strike was the bloodiest single incident in Gaza since Israel launched a bombing campaign against the densely populated Gaza Strip in retaliation for a deadly cross-border Hamas assault on Israeli communities on Oct. 7.
“This attack is unprecedented in scale,” said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Representative for the West Bank and Gaza. “We have seen consistent attacks on healthcare in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
Peeperkorn said there so far have been 51 attacks against healthcare facilities in Gaza, with 15 health workers killed and 27 injured.
The Israeli military blamed on a failed rocket launch by a Palestinian militant group.
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said there were patients, healthcare workers and internally displaced people in the hospital when it was struck.
“The hospital was one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military,” he said.
“The order for evacuation has been impossible to carry out given the current insecurity, critical condition of many patients, and lack of ambulances, staff, health system bed capacity, and alternative shelter for those displaced,” he added.
Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said it was “inhumane” to leave Gaza’s health workers with the dilemma of caring for their patients or fleeing to save their own lives. He said doctors and nurses were choosing their patients over themselves.
“It is absolutely clear to all sides of this conflict where the health facilities are,” Ryan said.
“It is absolutely clear healthcare is not a target… That is enshrined in international humanitarian law. And we’re seeing this breached again and again and again over the last week. And it has to stop. It must stop.”
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Sandra Maler
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