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More Gaza hospitals suspend operations as Israel hunts Hamas

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Two more major hospitals in Gaza closed to new patients on Sunday, with staff saying that Israeli bombardment plus lack of fuel and medicine meant more babies and others could die.

Hospitals in the north of the Palestinian enclave are blockaded by Israeli forces and barely able to care for those inside, medical staff said. Israel says it is homing in on Hamas militants in the area and the hospitals should be evacuated.

Gaza's largest and second largest hospitals, Al Shifa and Al-Quds, said they were suspending operations. With more people killed and wounded daily but half of the territory's hospitals now out of action, there are ever fewer places for the injured.

"My son was injured and there was not a single hospital I could take him to so he could get stitches," said Ahmed al-Kahlout, who was fleeing south in accordance with Israeli advice while fearing that nowhere in Gaza was safe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has managed to restore communication with health professionals at Shifa, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that the situation was "dire and perilous" with constant gunfire and bombing exacerbating the already critical circumstances.

"Tragically, the number of patient fatalities has increased significantly," he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Regrettably, the hospital is not functioning as a hospital anymore."

A plastic surgeon in Shifa said bombing of the building housing incubators had forced them to line up premature babies on ordinary beds, using the little power available to turn the air conditioning to warm.

"We are expecting to lose more of them day by day," said Dr Ahmed El Mokhallalati.

Israel says Hamas has placed command centres under and near the hospitals and it needs to get at them to free around 200 hostages the militants took in Israel in an attack just over a month ago. Hamas has denied using hospitals in this way.

On Sunday, a Palestinian official briefed on talks over the release of hostages said Hamas had suspended the negotiations because of the way Israel had handled Shifa hospital.

There was no immediate comment from either Hamas or Israel.

'NO ONE IS ALLOWED IN, NOBODY IS ALLOWED OUT'

Israel's military said it had offered to evacuate newborn babies and had placed 300 litres of fuel at Shifa's entrance on Saturday night, but that both gestures had been blocked by Hamas.

Muhammad Abu Salmiya, director of Shifa, said reports of refusing to leave the diesel were "lies and slander." Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, said that of 45 babies in incubators at Shifa, three had already died.

Shifa was out of reach for the newly wounded, said Mohammad Qandil, a doctor at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in south Gaza, who is in touch with colleagues there.

"Shifa hospital now isn't working, no one is allowed in, nobody is allowed out," he said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Al-Quds hospital was also out of service, with staff struggling to care for those already there with little medicine, food and water.

"Al Quds hospital has been cut off from the world in the last six to seven days. No way in, no way out," said Tommaso Della Longa, spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Three U.N. agencies expressed horror at the situation in the hospitals, saying it had in 36 days registered at least 137 attacks on healthcare facilities, resulting in 521 deaths and 686 injuries - including 16 dead and 38 wounded medics.

"The world cannot stand silent while hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair," it said, saying half of Gaza's hospitals were now closed.

With the humanitarian situation across Gaza worsening, 80 foreigners and several injured Palestinians crossed into Egypt in the first evacuations since Friday, four Egyptian security sources said.

Poland said 18 of them were its citizens, and U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS News American citizens would be moved out of Gaza during Sunday.

AID DELIVERIES BY TRUCK AND PARACHUTE

At least 80 aid trucks had also moved from Egypt into Gaza by Sunday afternoon, two of the sources said. Jordan said earlier it had air-dropped a second batch into a field hospital.

Very little aid has entered Gaza since Israel declared war on Hamas more than a month ago after militants rampaged through southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Palestinian officials said on Friday that 11,078 Gaza residents had been killed in air and artillery strikes since then, around 40% of them children.

Disease is spreading among evacuees packed into schools and other shelters and surviving on tiny amounts of food and water, international aid agencies say.

Speaking from inside Gaza City, Jamila, 54, said she and her family could hear the roar of tanks nearby.

"During the day, people try to look for essential items such as bread and water, and at night people try to stay alive," she said. "We hear explosions throughout the night, sometimes we can tell that some of these explosions are exchanges of fire between the resistance fighters and the Israeli forces."

Palestinian health officials said 13 people had been killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Sunday.

Residents reported increased fighting around Al-Shati refugee camp, by the coast in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said it had killed a number of militants there and called on civilians to use a four-hour pause to evacuate south.

The Gaza fighting has reignited conflict on Israel's northern border with Lebanon, which has seen the worst cross-border clashes since 2006.

Lebanon's Hezbollah group, which like Hamas is backed by Iran, said it attacked Israeli army troops near the Dovev Barracks on Sunday, inflicting casualties.

The Israeli military said earlier that anti-tank missiles fired by militants had hit civilians, adding that it was retaliating with artillery fire.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon said one of its members near the town of Al-Qawzah in southern Lebanon had been wounded by a bullet overnight.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, and Maayan Lubell and Maytaal Angel in Jerusalem; additional reporting by Hatem Maher, Emma Farge, Tala Ramadan, Michael Georgy, Crispian Balmer, Ari Rabinovitch, Adam Makary, Omar Abdel-Razek, Francois Murphy and other Reuters bureaux; Writing by Philippa Fletcher, Andrew Cawthorne and Simon Lewis; Editing by William Maclean, Giles Elgood, Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker)