Smoke billows over destroyed buildings in the Palestinian territory on November 20, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement – Copyright AFP Myo Satt Hla Thaw

Adel Zaanoun

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Monday Israeli forces had struck the Indonesian Hospital and killed at least 12 people, including patients, in the north of the war-torn Palestinian territory.

Dozens more were wounded and around 700 people remained trapped inside the “besieged” medical centre, said Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman of the ministry which has reported a death toll of more than 13,000 in Gaza.

Israel did not immediately comment but pushed on with its withering air and ground campaign aimed at destroying Hamas over the October 7 attacks it says killed 1,200 people and saw 240 dragged off as hostages.

The latest reported blow to Gaza’s devastated health sector came as hopes rose that 31 premature babies evacuated from another hospital, Al-Shifa, would be taken from a Gaza clinic to safety in Egypt through the Rafah crossing. 

Frantic diplomatic efforts were meanwhile underway to seal a deal for the release of some of the hostages. Mediator Qatar voiced hope on Sunday that an agreement was near, but Israel and Hamas have not yet reported that a deal is imminent.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has reduced much of the coastal strip to rubble and seen Israeli troops raid, occupy and evacuate the biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, in recent days, which saw hundreds flee the area on foot toward southern Gaza.

Israel, backed by ally the United States, argues that Hamas has used vast tunnel networks below Al-Shifa for military purposes and showed recovered weaponry as proof, but was yet to reveal evidence of a major military headquarters below ground.

After another Gaza building was hit, in Deir al-Balah south of Gaza City on Sunday, rescuers searched through the debris for survivors and bodies, using the lights of their mobile phones in the rain.

“There are only children and women in the house and no one else,” exclaimed one resident. “How can that give them (the Israeli army) an excuse to hit it? …  We don’t have any equipment to pull people out from under the rubble.”

– Bodies on the road –

Alarm has surged over the dire humanitarian situation as the war rages into a seventh week.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,000 people, including thousands of children, according to the Hamas-run government, fuelling mounting global pressure for a ceasefire. 

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA has described a “collapse of services” at hospitals across northern Gaza, amid shortages of electricity, fuel and medical supplies.

Israeli officials have warned a “window of legitimacy” for the war to rout Hamas may be closing. 

On Sunday Israel presented what it said was evidence Hamas used Al-Shifa to hide foreign hostages and to mask tunnels. 

Released images showed what Israel said was a 55-metre-long tunnel under the hospital, along with CCTV footage from October 7 of two male hostages, from Nepal and Thailand, being brought there. 

“We have not yet located both of these hostages,” army spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters. 

AFP could not immediately verify the footage. 

Israel also accused the militant group of executing 19-year-old Israeli soldier Noa Marciano at Al-Shifa. 

Hamas has denied Israeli claims that Al-Shifa doubled as a military base. 

The hospital has been a focal point of global concern after Israeli forces launched a raid on it last week, with the World Health Organisation calling it “a death zone”. 

Over the weekend, hundreds fled the Al-Shifa hospital on foot as loud explosions were heard around the complex. At least 15 bodies, some decomposing, were strewn along the route, an AFP journalist said. 

– ‘Humanitarian disaster’ –

The Israeli army said on Sunday it was taking the Gaza fight against Hamas to “additional neighbourhoods”.

The Indonesia Hospital is located near the Jabalia refugee camp, where on Saturday a health official said more than 80 people were killed in twin strikes, including on a UN school sheltering displaced people. 

Israel’s military has said Jabalia is among the areas of focus as they “target terrorists and strike Hamas infrastructure”. 

The Gaza war has sparked fears of a wider conflagration in the Middle East where Israel has long faced arch enemy Iran and its allies.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels on Sunday said they had seized in the Red Sea a cargo ship owned by an Israeli businessman and rerouted it to Yemen’s coast.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the ship “was hijacked with Iran guidance by the Yemenite Huthi militia”, an allegation Iran rejected on Monday. 

China meanwhile hosted a crisis meeting with the foreign ministers of the Palestinian Authority as well as Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the world must “act urgently” to stop the “humanitarian disaster”. 

An update from OCHA citing media reports said at least six Palestinian journalists had been killed in Gaza in the previous 24 hours.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that as of Sunday 48 media workers involved in covering the war had been confirmed dead, 43 of them Palestinian.

– ‘Hole in our hearts’ –

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas and has refused to heed calls for a ceasefire before they release all hostages — a group that includes infants, teens and pensioners. 

Four captives have so far been freed and a fifth rescued.

The bodies of two female hostages, including the soldier, were recovered in Gaza, the Israeli military said last week.

In London, the tearful father of missing nine-year-old Emily Hand begged for her to be freed. 

“There’s just a big, big hole in all our hearts that won’t be filled until she comes home again,” he told AFP. 

Qatari mediators on Sunday touted progress on a deal that would free some of the hostages and pause the fighting, pointing to only “very minor” practical challenges.

Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said: “I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal.” 

But neither details nor a timeline were provided.

US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer also told US media that negotiators were “closer than we have been in quite some time” to a deal. 

But he cautioned: “The mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed really does apply.”