Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN Reports Medical Evacuation Convoy in Gaza Blocked by Israeli Forces

FILE - A Red Crescent ambulance passes by Israeli troops during an army raid in the Tulkarem refugee camp, West Bank, Jan.17, 2024.
FILE - A Red Crescent ambulance passes by Israeli troops during an army raid in the Tulkarem refugee camp, West Bank, Jan.17, 2024.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has accused Israeli forces of blocking a medical evacuation of hospital patients in Gaza, preventing them from reaching another medical facility in the Rafah area bordering Egypt for several hours Sunday.

OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said Tuesday that the medical convoy was transporting 24 patients, including one pregnant woman and one mother and newborn, from Al Amal Hospital in Khan Younis.

“Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital,” Laerke said. “We were forced to leave 31 noncritical patients” in the hospital.

“The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes,” he said, noting that three Palestine Red Crescent Society paramedics were detained while the rest of the convoy stayed in place for more than seven hours.

He added that one paramedic has since been released.

“We appeal for the immediate release of the other two and all other detained health workers,” Laerke said.

“We have not had any information or any communication from Israeli authorities as to why this clearly notified movement — which they, by the way, acknowledged that we had sent them notification — was still detained for seven hours,” he said.

Laerke said Israeli authorities also have not explained why “health workers were taken out, forced to undress, and three held back — two of them still not released.”

The Israeli military has not commented on this incident, saying it was checking on the details described by OCHA.

World Health Organization spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said several of the people on the convoy could not walk, “but everybody else had to get out of the ambulance.”

“You can imagine being already transferred under life-threatening circumstances, not being able to move or being able to move and being made to stand outside and having to wait for seven hours, is pretty unimaginable,” he said.

Al Amal Hospital has been at the epicenter of military operations in Khan Younis for more than a month. WHO reports that 40 attacks at the hospital from January 22 to February 22, killing at least 25, have left it incapacitated.

Currently, it says 215 people remain in the hospital, including the 31 patients left behind, health workers, paramedics, ambulance drivers, eight physicians and 10 nurses.

“The 24 evacuated patients were transported from Al Amal to a hospital in Rafah, where they could receive treatment,” Laerke said. “And several, if not all of them, required some kind of surgical intervention, which of course could not happen at Al Amal Hospital.”

Lindmeier notes that Sunday was not an isolated incident. He said eight convoys have come under fire and were systematically denied access to people in need.

“Humanitarian workers have been harassed, intimidated or detained by Israeli forces, and humanitarian infrastructure has been hit,” he said.

“Just prior to Sunday’s incident, two family members of Medecins Sans Frontieres [Doctors Without Borders] were killed in an unprompted attack by Israeli forces against a deconflicted compound where their staff and family members slept,” he said.

More than four months of fierce warfare in Gaza has taken a toll on lives and property. Since Israel’s military offensive began, following Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel October 7, Gaza’s Ministry of Health reports at least 29,782 Palestinians have been killed, 70% of them women and children, and 70,043 injured. It does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

According to the Israeli military, 238 soldiers have been killed and 1,400 injured since the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza. In addition, Israeli authorities report Hamas militants killed more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals in Israel and took 240 hostages during their invasion.

The Israeli authorities estimate that 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza, including fatalities whose bodies remain in Gaza.

“We are in favor of a humanitarian cease-fire, and we are in favor and claiming for the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

“This is what we would like to see happening. This is not what is on the table,” Guterres said, noting that the current negotiations are aimed at a progressive release of hostages and some interruption of the fighting.

“Not being our objective, or final objective, we fully support any efforts that will lead to the liberation of hostages and to the reduction of the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said.