More than 300 bodies found in mass grave at Gaza hospital, says Gaza Civil Defense

A mass grave with more than 300 bodies has been uncovered at a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, Gaza Civil Defense workers said, following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the area earlier this month.

Col. Yamen Abu Suleiman, Director of Civil Defense in Khan Younis told CNN that 35 bodies had been discovered at the Nasser Medical Complex on Tuesday, bringing the total to 310. Some 73 bodies had been discovered on Monday, Suleiman said.

Suleiman alleged that some of the bodies had been found with hands and feet tied, “and there were signs of field executions. We do not know if they were buried alive or executed. Most of the bodies are decomposed.”

CNN is unable to verify Suleiman’s claims and cannot confirm the causes of death among the bodies being unearthed.

Previously, a Khan Younis Civil Defense spokesman and head of the search mission, Raed Saqr, told CNN that they are searching for the bodies of another 400 missing people after the Israeli military left on April 7.

A CNN stringer who visited the scene Sunday said people had buried the bodies of family members who had been killed in the grounds of the hospital in January as a temporary measure. When they returned after the Israeli withdrawal they found the bodies had been exhumed – apparently because the IDF was using DNA testing to determine whether any of the hostages held in Gaza were among the dead.

The bodies were then placed in at least one collective grave, the stringer said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told CNN on Tuesday that any “claim that the IDF buried Palestinian bodies is baseless and unfounded.”

“During the IDF’s operation in the area of Nasser Hospital, in accordance to the effort to locate hostages and missing persons, corpses buried by Palestinians in the area of Nasser Hospital were examined. The examination was conducted in a careful manner and exclusively in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages.

“The examination was carried out respectfully while maintaining the dignity of the deceased. Bodies examined, which did not belong to Israeli hostages, were returned to their place,” the IDF said.

‘We wanted to make him a decent grave’

One man at the scene told CNN that he was yet to find the body of his 21-year old son, who was killed in January.

“I haven’t found him yet. We had buried him over there. But we can’t find him. And we wanted to make him a decent grave.”

Another man, who said his brother Alaa was also killed in January, said: “I am here today looking for him. I have been coming here to the hospital for the last two weeks and trying to find him. Hopefully, I will be able to find him.”

Pointing to a fallen palm tree, the man said his brother had been temporarily buried in that spot.

“I had buried him there on the side, but I can’t find him. The Israelis have dug up the dead bodies, and switched them. They took DNA tests and misplaced all the dead bodies.”

The man’s mother said they had been searching for two weeks and had been unable to find his body.

The Israeli military told CNN on Tuesday that at the end of February, it conducted an operation against Hamas in the Nasser hospital area and that during the operation, “about 200 terrorists who were in the hospital were apprehended, medicines intended for Israeli hostages were found undelivered and unused, and a great deal of ammunition was confiscated.”

“The activity was done in a targeted manner and without harming the hospital, the patients and the medical staff,” the IDF told CNN.

A Palestinian woman told CNN she had spent 10 days searching for the body of her daughter, who had been killed and buried in the hospital grounds late in January after a nearby residential building had been struck.

Another ’400 missing’

She said the Israelis “have dug out the dead bodies out and they switched them. She and her uncle’s wife were buried at the same hour.”

The mother added: “We have found the body of her uncle’s wife. But the rest we can’t find them.”

Saqr told CNN Sunday that Civil Defence personnel had been searching for bodies at the medical complex for three days so far and the operation was ongoing.

“We have information that there are 400 missing people, and we are continuing to search for the rest of the bodies.”

The IDF has said it has removed dozens of bodies from Gaza for DNA tests in Israel, before returning the remains in containers.

The area around the Nasser Medical Complex saw intense bombardment and combat in January and February. At the time, CNN reported on the burial of bodies in the hospital grounds because of a lack of safe access to cemeteries.

Journalist Tareq Al Hilou, in Gaza, and Eugenia Yosef contributed reporting to this story.

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