World

Middle East Crisis: Israel Strikes in Lebanon After Deadly Rocket Attack

Hundreds of displaced Palestinians fled one of the Gaza Strip’s last functioning hospitals on Wednesday, after the Israeli military ordered them to leave and threatened further action to stop what it said was Hamas activity there.

Thousands of Gazans have sheltered at the Nasser Medical Complex in the southern city of Khan Younis for weeks, and many are terrified that Israeli forces will bombard or storm the complex, said Mohammed Abu Lehya, a doctor there. Previous Israeli warnings to evacuate hospitals, including Al-Shifa, the largest in Gaza, have often preceded military raids.

Hanin Abu Tiba, 27, an English teacher sheltering at the hospital, described dire conditions inside, with food running out and aid convoys all but unable to deliver supplies. In text messages overnight, she said that she had seen an Israeli military vehicle outside the hospital gate.

“I’m terrified to leave the hospital and get shot,” she said. But inside the complex, she said, “the electricity is cutting out, and the water, and the canned food is almost gone. We don’t know what to do.”

Dr. Abu Lehya, in a WhatsApp message on Wednesday, called conditions at the hospital “beyond imagination.”

The tensions at the hospital played out as Israel carried out extensive airstrikes in southern Lebanon on Wednesday in response to a deadly rocket attack on northern Israel. The rocket attack struck a military base near the city of Safed, killing a soldier and wounding eight people, the Israeli authorities said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia allied with Hamas.

A man digging amid tents pitched by Palestinians seeking shelter outside Nasser hospital in Khan Younis.Credit…Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israeli forces have been expanding their offensive in Khan Younis for weeks, saying they are targeting Hamas militants in the city. Israeli leaders have also vowed to invade Rafah, farther south, calling it Hamas’s last stronghold. More than a million people have sought shelter in Rafah, raising international alarm at what could happen should Israel begin a full-scale military operation there.

The Israeli military on Wednesday accused Hamas of conducting military activity on the grounds of Nasser hospital and said the area “was used to hold hostages.”

“We demand the immediate cessation of all military activity in the area of the hospital and the immediate departure of military operatives from it,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

The military also instructed civilians to evacuate, though it said it had not called on patients and medical staff to leave. It called for civilians sheltering at the hospital to go to “safer spaces” in southern and central Gaza, and said that Israel had “opened a secure route to evacuate the civilian population.”

A video shared on social media on Wednesday and verified by The New York Times showed crowds of people, many carrying belongings and bedding, leaving the hospital as explosions sounded in the background.

But many Palestinians and aid groups say that no place in Gaza is safe, and doctors at the hospital and the Gazan health ministry said that some people who tried to flee the hospital compound on Tuesday were shot at by Israeli soldiers, who killed some and wounded others.

The Israeli military did not respond to questions about those reports.

As Israeli troops approached the hospital, negotiators met in Cairo for a second day of discussions aimed at reaching an agreement that could pause the fighting and free the remaining hostages taken to Gaza during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel. But Israel and Hamas do not appear to be close to a deal.

People burying relatives killed in strikes outside Nasser hospital last month.Credit…Mohammed Dahman/Associated Press

An Egyptian official briefed on the talks after a first day of high-level negotiations on Tuesday ended without an agreement described the tenor of the negotiations as positive.

On Wednesday, however, the Israeli news media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pulled the Israeli delegation from the talks — something that his office, in a statement did not directly address. But the statement said that “Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed that Israel will not submit to Hamas’s delusional demands.”

The news reports infuriated a group representing relatives of the Israeli hostages, the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, which has been pressing Mr. Netanyahu to do more to secure the release of the captives. To pull out of the talks, the group said, would be to “consciously sacrifice the lives of the abductees.” It said it planned to protest outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, which partly administers the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on Wednesday urged Hamas and Israel to reach an agreement, saying it could prevent a devastating Israeli incursion into Rafah.

Smoke billowing over Khan Younis on Wednesday, as seen from Rafah.Credit…Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We call on everyone, especially the Hamas movement, to quickly complete the deal so that we can protect our people and remove all obstacles,” Mr. Abbas said in a statement reported by Wafa, the authority’s official news agency. Mr. Abbas leads Fatah, a political party that is a rival of Hamas.

With food, water and medicine in desperately short supply in Gaza, the Biden administration on Wednesday called on Israel to stop blocking flour shipments to UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency for Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said on Tuesday that he had issued a directive not to transfer flour to UNRWA, citing allegations that some of its employees were tied to Hamas, including 12 accused of having roles in the Oct. 7 attack and its aftermath.

About 1,050 containers, most filled with flour, were held up at the Israeli port of Ashdod, Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, told reporters on Friday. That would be enough to feed 1.1 million Gazans for a month, he said.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said: “That flour has not moved the way that we had expected it would move. We expect that Israel will follow through on its commitment to get that flour into Gaza.”

At Nasser hospital, some medical workers were packing their belongings and preparing their families to flee.

“We are all scared,” said Dr. Mohammad Abu Moussa, a radiologist.

But Dr. Moussa said that even though he was worried about an assault on the hospital, he and his wife had decided to remain for now. They and their two surviving children — a third was killed in an airstrike in October — have been staying at the hospital for weeks.

“I have no other choice,” Dr. Abu Moussa said. “I don’t have anywhere to go in Rafah, and I have young children, and they can’t walk long distances like that.”

People fleeing Khan Younis arriving in Rafah on Wednesday.Credit…Hatem Ali/Associated Press

Nasser was treating about 400 patients on Wednesday, including about 80 in intensive care, with 35 on dialysis, said Rik Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization’s representative for the West Bank and Gaza.

The W.H.O. last had access to the hospital, the largest in southern Gaza, on Jan. 29, he said. He said that the W.H.O. had sought Israeli permission to carry out two missions in the last five days to resupply the hospital with medicine and to assess its condition, but that Israel had denied the requests.

“Without this support, and without being able to access this hospital, it might well become nonfunctional,” Dr. Peeperkorn said via video from Rafah.

The Israeli military has previously rejected accusations that it has blocked medical supply missions. On Monday, after the W.H.O. said that it had been denied access to the hospital, the Israeli agency that coordinates policy for the Palestinian territories said that the W.H.O. had “never submitted a coordination request.”

On Wednesday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said in a statement: “Nasser is the backbone of the health system in southern Gaza. It must be protected. Humanitarian access must be allowed.”

Reporting was contributed by Rawan Sheikh Ahmad, Aaron Boxerman, Adam Sella, Gaya Gupta, Johnatan Reiss, Patrick Kingsley and Erica L. Green.