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Al-Shifa Hospital: First bodies exhumed from mass graves at northern Gaza complex, after Israeli siege


Health workers in northern Gaza exhumed the first bodies from mass graves in and around Al-Shifa Hospital on Tuesday, after saying Israeli forces killed hundreds of Palestinians and left their bodies to decompose during their siege two weeks from the resort.

At least 381 bodies have been found near the compound since Israeli forces withdrew on April 1, Gaza Civil Defense spokesman Mahmoud Basal said Tuesday, adding that the total figure did not include those buried there. within the hospital grounds.

Most of the decomposed remains discovered had been buried or found on the surface, officials told CNN on Monday. Israeli tanks crushed others to death, leaving some of those killed completely disfigured and impossible to identify, Basal said.

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Witnesses and civilians trapped inside the hospital during the attack say the surrounding area “was full of dead bodies,” according to Basal. “The occupying forces plowed up these bodies and buried them,” he added.

“We are here to recover the remains of the bodies that are in the mounds of sand that the Israeli occupation plowed into big piles,” Ahmad Alaiwa, a doctor at Al-Shifa, told CNN.

Some bodies were found underground or under plastic sheeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday in a message on X. “Hospitals should never be militarized,” he said. he declared in a video message.

This came as staff from the World Health Organization and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reached Al-Shifa Hospital earlier this month, according to a report from the ‘UN. Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied humanitarian teams access to the compound, the UN said.

“Shifa has literally become a cemetery… There are still bodies in this courtyard,” Jonathan Whittall, OCHA’s humanitarian affairs officer, said in a video message released. onSATURDAY.

AFP/Getty Images

A United Nations (UN) team inspects the grounds of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, reduced to ruins by a two-week Israeli raid, April 8, 2024.

In response to a request for comment from CNN, the Israeli military said that in collaboration with the ISA (Israeli Security Agency), it had “carried out operations against terrorist operatives and infrastructure” in Al- Shifa, and that “around 500 suspects affiliated with terrorist organizations”. were apprehended and 200 terrorists were eliminated.

The operation was “carried out following specific intelligence from the ISA and the Intelligence Directorate regarding the activities of terrorist organizations in the region, including the use of Shifa as a command and control center and military headquarters “, he added.

“The forces found large quantities of weapons and intelligence materials throughout the hospital, engaged terrorists in close combat, and engaged in combat while avoiding harm to medical staff and patients. »

Those apprehended were transferred for further questioning to the ISA and Unit 504 of the Intelligence Directorate, he added.

Mohammed Hajjar/AP

Palestinians walk through the destroyed Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza on April 1. Health workers in Gaza told CNN they had exhumed the first bodies from mass graves dug by Israeli forces.

The Israeli military confirmed its withdrawal from Al-Shifa on April 1, stating that “hundreds of terrorists had been killed or captured.”

“The Shifa terrorist base has been eliminated,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said at the time. CNN cannot independently verify the IDF’s statements.

Israel has claimed for years that Hamas fighters take refuge in mosques, hospitals and other civilian places to avoid Israeli attacks. Hamas has repeatedly denied these claims.

Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza after the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people, including 36 children, and kidnapping more than 250 others.

Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed at least 33,360 Palestinians and injured 75,993 others, according to the enclave’s Health Ministry.

“The smell of the dead is everywhere,” Motasem Salah, a Gaza health ministry official who is leading recovery efforts, told CNN.

“We are trying to identify the bodies of these civilians while their families wait for news of their loved ones – whether they are alive or missing. »

AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian forensic and civil defense medics recover bodies on the grounds of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, reduced to ruins by a two-week Israeli raid, April 8, 2024.

After the two-week siege, the hospital complex’s specialized facilities are “completely out of service,” according to Health Ministry official Salah. He warned that Israeli bombings have destroyed the medical system in Gaza, reducing resources for rescue and recovery operations.

“We do not have a pathologist or expertise to document the crimes of the occupation,” he said.

UN experts accused Israel of “denying access to health care to those who need it most,” in an April 3 statement.

“The world is witnessing the first genocide shown in real time to the world by its victims and unfathomably justified by Israel as consistent with the laws of war,” the statement added. “The scale of the atrocity still cannot be fully documented due to its scale and severity – and clearly represents the most horrific attack on hospitals in Gaza. »

International law prohibits targeting hospitals in war, but those standards change if enemy combatants use the facilities to attack an enemy.

AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian forensic medics and civil defense recover human remains on the grounds of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, reduced to ruins by a two-week Israeli raid, April 8, 2024.

On Monday, CNN video from Al-Shifa showed huge blocks of damaged concrete spilling from buildings destroyed by the explosion. U.N. staff wearing white helmets clambered over layers of debris, while dozens of local workers used shovels to dig for the bodies. Others delicately carried decomposed remains in white shrouds. Palestinian children watched wearily, with the sound of Israeli planes buzzing overhead.

Gazans gathered at the hospital to search for missing family members. Ghassan Riyad Qunaitta said his elderly father was among those found in the mass graves.

“He was a civilian,” Qunaitta told CNN. “What can we say? They took him from his home and killed him. CNN cannot independently verify that Qunaitta’s father was killed by Israeli forces.

The IDF stormed his relatives’ house next to the compound and told them to flee south, leaving his father near the fence of the surgery ward – where his body was found on Monday, he said.

“We have since lost track of him and only found his body today… almost a week since they retreated. Until today we have been looking for it and only now have we found it.

Ramzi Mahmud/Anadolu/Getty Images

Gazan teams from the health department, civil defense, crime scene investigators and forensic doctors investigate what remains of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, April 8, 2024.

Another Palestinian woman at the hospital, Nuha Swailem, told CNN she was searching for her missing husband, who she said was arrested by Israeli forces during the raid.

“We do not know their fate or that of my husband, whether they are… buried or detained,” she added. “Tell us where our children are?” Tell me where is my husband?

Palestinians in Al-Shifa told CNN they wanted to give their loved ones a proper funeral, lamenting the indignity of their deaths. United Nations agencies worked with Gaza’s health ministry to provide dignified burials for unidentified bodies discovered in Al-Shifa, according to an article published Tuesday on X.

“We want to recover these remains and bury them properly,” said Alaiwa, one of Al-Shifa’s doctors. “Parents and families want to know the fate of their loved ones, whether they are dead, arrested or missing. »

Swailem, the Palestinian mother, reflected: “Why did they arrest them. What crime did they commit? The only crime is that we are the Palestinian people.

Khadr Al-Za’anoun of Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, contributed to this report.

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