Wounded patients, medical workers and hundreds of displaced Palestinians left the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital complex on Saturday, a witness and a hospital doctor said, days after Israeli troops stormed the complex in search of Hamas command centers.
There was confusion about what had prompted the people to leave the besieged hospital, Al-Shifa, in Gaza City. According to the witness, who was interviewed by telephone, Israeli troops announced an evacuation by megaphone.
The Israeli military said it had not ordered an evacuation but had agreed to a request made by the hospital’s director to allow patients and medical workers who wished to leave the hospital to do so safely.
“There were no ambulances, nothing,” said the witness, Mahmoud Abu Harbed, a resident of northern Gaza who spent more than a month at Al-Shifa. The roads from the hospital, he said, were heavily damaged by bombing.
He said most of the departing Palestinians had left the complex on foot.
Adnan al-Bursh, a doctor at Al-Shifa, told Al Jazeera in a televised interview that Israeli troops had ordered those remaining in the hospital to leave. They marched out past tanks, he said, with some fleeing toward southern Gaza and others heading elsewhere in Gaza’s embattled north.
“We walked alongside the wounded and the elderly,” Dr. al-Bursh said. “It was a terrifying sight, God help us.”
The Israeli military said it would aid medical staff and patients who could not go.
“Medical personnel will remain in the hospital to support patients who are unable to evacuate,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that it had provided “additional food, water and humanitarian assistance” to Al-Shifa overnight.
It was not immediately clear how many patients, staff members or Israeli soldiers remained in the complex. Munir al-Bursh, an official with the Gazan Health Ministry, said in a statement that at least 120 patients and five doctors were inside.
Some of those who have left hospitals in the north in recent weeks have ended up at the European Gaza Hospital in Khan Younis, in the south, where families have been sleeping in crowded corridors and workers have been scrambling to treat patients amid a shortage of beds, according to Dr. Saleh Al-Hamase, the hospital’s head of nursing.
Dozens of wounded people went to the hospital after a nearly 16-mile journey from Al-Shifa last week, many on foot and some in wheelchairs, Dr. Al-Hamase said. Only the most severe cases were sent in ambulances, he said.
The hospital was preparing on Saturday to receive 200 more patients from Al-Shifa, Dr. Al-Hamase said.
“We are days away from running out of fuel and collapsing,” he said. “The scenes at the hospital are tragic, and the bombardment around us is continuous.”
Israeli soldiers seized the Al-Shifa hospital complex on Wednesday, saying that it hosted an underground Hamas command center. Both the Palestinian armed group and Al-Shifa officials have denied the accusation.
Israeli troops say they have found weapons caches in the complex and, near the hospital, the bodies of two Israeli hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel.
On Thursday, the Israeli military escorted journalists from The New York Times to Al-Shifa to see a stone-and-concrete shaft with a staircase descending into the earth — evidence, the military said, of a Hamas presence there. But the army has yet to provide conclusive proof of a subterranean military base.
The departures from Al-Shifa came as the Israeli military, having claimed control of northern Gaza, signaled plans to expand its offensive against Hamas into the south, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled in recent weeks in the hopes of escaping pounding airstrikes and widespread destruction.
Even as Israel continued to tell civilians to flee south for their own safety, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said late Friday that its troops would continue operations “in every place that Hamas is, and it is in the south of the strip.”
His statement appeared to telegraph a new phase in the war, three weeks into Israel’s ground invasion.
President Biden denounced “the murderous nihilism of Hamas” in an opinion article published Saturday by The Washington Post, stating: “As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace.” But looking beyond the current fighting, he said, an eventual peace will require a Palestinian state led by a “revitalized Palestinian Authority.”
“A two-state solution — two peoples living side by side with equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity — is where the road to peace must lead,” he wrote. “There must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, and no reduction in territory,” Mr. Biden asserted. “And after this war is over, the voices of Palestinian people and their aspirations must be at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel reiterated at a news conference on Saturday that his postwar vision for Gaza would not include the Palestinian Authority in its current form.
Mr. Biden, in his opinion article, also condemned “extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,” and said the United States might issue visa bans against those making such attacks.
On the ground in southern Gaza, some areas were hit by airstrikes on Saturday, according to the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency. Some residents in southern Gaza also reported seeing fliers said to have been dropped by Israeli planes warning people in outlying villages to evacuate.
The Israeli military did not immediately confirm the strikes on Saturday and declined to comment on the veracity of the fliers. Several journalists in Khan Younis said displaced people there had shown them the fliers.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said early Saturday said there had been “intense strikes” by the Israelis in the south, as well as “ground clashes” between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups over the previous 24 hours in Khan Younis, the southern city of Rafah and in northern Gaza.
Maysaa Abu Daqaa, who lives east of Khan Younis, said she had left her home and gone to a hospital.
“They told us to leave,” she said, referring to Israeli officials. “We can barely sort out our situation.”
Gazans have been saying for weeks that no place in the territory is safe. Only foreign citizens, some international workers and a limited number of severely wounded Palestinians have been allowed to leave Gaza through the border with Egypt.
In a Friday news briefing, Admiral Hagari did not respond directly to a question about where civilians should go if the south becomes an active war zone.
Israel launched its military operation in Gaza last month, after Hamas killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and took about 240 others hostage, the Israeli authorities said.
Since the war began, more than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to health officials in the Hamas-run territory.
Reporting was contributed by Hiba Yazbek, Abu Bakr Bashir, Rawan Sheikh Ahmad, Ephrat Livni, Victoria Kim and Michael Levenson.