Israeli tanks surrounded a hospital in north Gaza and at least 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded by firing into the complex, health officials said on Monday, as fighting raged on amid indications of a possible pause in hostilities.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military about the situation at the Indonesian Hospital, where health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said 700 patients along with staff were under fire from Israeli forces.
The Palestinian news agency WAFA said the facility in the northeast Gaza town of Beit Lahia had been hit by artillery fire. Palestinian health officials said there were frantic efforts to evacuate civilians out of harm's way.
Hospital staff denied there were any armed militants on the premises. Israel says its forces in Gaza are targeting "terror infrastructure" and accuse Hamas of waging war behind human shields, including in hospitals, which the Islamist group denies.
“We had information earlier that tanks were besieging the Indonesian Hospital. Unfortunately..., communications there are almost cut,” Nahed Abu Taaema, director of Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, told Reuters.
“We are very concerned about the fate of our colleagues and the fate of wounded and patients as well as (displaced) people who may have still sheltering there. No ambulances can reach them, and we're afraid the wounded will die,” said Abu Taeema.
Like all other health facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian Hospital, set up in 2016 with funding from Indonesian organisations, has largely ceased operations but is still sheltering patients, staff and displaced residents.
Israel has ordered the complete evacuation of the north, but thousands of civilians remain, many seeking shelter in hospitals. Fuel and medicines have been running out across the entire enclave under Israel's six-week-old siege.
Witnesses also reported bouts of heavy fighting between Hamas gunmen and Israeli forces trying to advance into north Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp, home to 100,000 people and, according to Israel, a significant militant stronghold.
Repeated Israeli bombardment of Jabalia, an urban extension of Gaza City that grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war, has killed scores of civilians, Palestinian medics say.
At the other end of the Gaza Strip, health officials said at least 14 Palestinians were killed in two Israeli air strikes on houses in the town of Rafah, near the border with Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans who fled the north of the enclave are sheltering in southern areas including Rafah.
The Israeli military issued a statement with video of air strikes and troops going house-to-house in Gaza, saying they killed three Hamas company commanders and a squad of Palestinian fighters, without giving specific locations.
Despite continued fighting, U.S. and Israeli officials said a Qatari-mediated deal to free some of the hostages held in the Palestinian enclave and pause fighting temporarily to enable aid deliveries to stricken civilians was edging closer.
About 240 hostages were taken during a deadly cross-border rampage into Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to invade the tiny Palestinian territory to wipe out the Islamist movement after several inconclusive wars since 2007.
Around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Hamas assault, according to Israeli tallies, the deadliest day in Israel's 75-year history.
Since then, Gaza's Hamas-run government said at least 13,000 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 5,500 children, by unrelenting Israeli bombardment.
The United Nations says two thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million population has been made homeless.
Israeli tanks and troops stormed into Gaza late last month and have since seized wide areas of the north and northwest and east around Gaza City, the Israeli military says.
But Hamas and local witnesses say militants are waging guerrilla-style warfare in pockets of the congested, urbanised north, including parts of Gaza City and the sprawling Jabalia and Beach refugee camps.
The armed wing of the militant group Islamic Jihad, an ally of Hamas, said its fighters ambushed seven Israeli military vehicles during clashes in the northern areas of Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia, and Al-Saftawi and west of Jabalia. Reuters could not independently confirm the fighting.
In Beijing, Arab and Muslim ministers joined international calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, as their delegation visited major world capitals to push for an end to fighting and to allow humanitarian aid deliveries to stricken civilians.
Some aid has been getting in through the Rafah commercial crossing with Egypt where 40 trucks containing equipment for an Emirati field hospital were expected soon, according to a statement by Gaza's General Authority for Crossings and Borders.
HOPEFUL FOR HOSTAGE RELEASE DEAL
Even as fighting continued on the ground in Gaza, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" Israel was hopeful a significant number of hostages could be released by Hamas "in coming days."
On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main obstacles to a deal were now "very minor," with mainly "practical and logistical" issues remaining.
A White House official said the "very complicated, very sensitive" negotiations were making progress.
They coincided with Israel preparing to expand its offensive against Hamas to Gaza's southern half, signalled by increasing air strikes on targets Israel sees as lairs of armed militants.
However, Israel's main ally the United States cautioned it on Sunday not to embark on combat operations in the south until military planners had taken into account the safety of Palestinian civilians.
Gaza's traumatised population has been on the move since the start of the war, sheltering in hospitals or trudging from the north to the south and, in some cases, back again, in desperate efforts to stay out of the line of fire.