By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran warned the scale of civilian suffering caused by Israel’s war on Hamas would inevitably lead to an expansion of the conflict, as officials in Gaza reported Israeli air strikes on or near several hospitals in the Palestinian enclave.
The comments from Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian could ramp up concerns over whether Washington’s diplomatic efforts and deployment of U.S. naval forces to the eastern Mediterranean will be able to keep the conflict from further destabilising the Middle East.
“Due to the expansion of the intensity of the war against Gaza’s civilian residents, expansion of the scope of the war has become inevitable,” Amir-Abdollahian told his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Thursday night.
Iran’s state-run Press TV reported the comments, made during a telephone conversation, on Friday.
Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza over the past month has created a humanitarian catastrophe with thousands seeking medical treatment and shelter in the few hospitals still open, with those in the combat zone operating in grave danger.
“The Israeli occupation launched simultaneous strikes on a number of hospitals during the past hours,” Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra told Al Jazeera television.
Qidra said an Israeli strike hit a courtyard in the Al Shifa hospital, the biggest in Gaza City, causing casualties, but he did not provide details. Israel said Hamas has hidden command centres and tunnels beneath Al Shifa, and other hospitals such as the Indonesian Hospital, allegations Hamas denies.
Israel’s military did not directly comment on Qidra’s statement, which Reuters could not independently verify, but it has said it does not target civilians.
“While the world sees neighbourhoods with schools, hospitals, scout groups, children’s playgrounds and mosques, Hamas sees an opportunity to exploit,” Israel’s military said in a statement.
Iran supports Hamas but says it did not play any role in the militants’ bloody attack on Israel last month that triggered the crisis. Iran also backs the Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that has deep ties with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction in Gaza that is also backed by Iran.
EXPLOSION DAMAGES HOSPITAL
The month-old Israeli military campaign to wipe out Hamas, following the militants’ Oct. 7 raid on southern Israel, has left Gaza’s hospitals struggling to cope, as medical supplies, clean water and fuel to power generators have been running out.
Gaza’s health ministry has said 18 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals and 40 other health centres were out of service either due to damage from shelling or lack of fuel.
Palestinian media published video footage on Friday of Al Shifa, which Reuters was unable to authenticate immediately, that it said showed the aftermath of an Israeli attack on a parking lot where displaced Palestinians were sheltered and journalists were observing.
A pool of blood could be seen next to the body of a man being placed on a stretcher.
“With ongoing strikes and fighting nearby (Al Shifa), we are gravely concerned about the well-being of thousands of civilians there, many children among them, seeking medical care and shelter,” Human Rights Watch said on social media site X.
Qidra said Al-Rantisi Pediatric Hospital and Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital “have been witnessing a series of direct attacks and bombardments” on Friday. He said strikes on the hospital grounds at Al-Rantisi set vehicles on fire but they had been partly extinguished.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry said on Friday there were explosions near the Indonesian Hospital overnight, which damaged parts of the hospital, located at the northern end of the narrow coastal enclave. It did not say who was responsible for the explosion and it did not report any deaths or injuries.
“Indonesia once again condemns the savage attacks on civilians and civilian objects, especially humanitarian facilities in Gaza,” the ministry said in a statement.
U.S. SAYS ISRAEL AGREES TO PAUSES
Israel says 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 240 taken hostage by Hamas in the Oct.7 raid that triggered the Israeli assault. Israel says it has lost 35 soldiers in Gaza.
Palestinian officials said 10,812 Gaza residents had been killed as of Thursday, about 40% of them children, in air and artillery strikes.
Israel’s military advance on central Gaza City, which brought tanks within about 1.2 kilometre (3/4 mile) of Al Shifa, according to residents, has raised questions about how Israel will interpret international laws on protecting medical centres and displaced people sheltering there.
Deadly air strikes on refugee camps, a medical convoy and near hospitals have already prompted fierce arguments among some of Israel’s Western allies over its military’s adherence to international law.
The Israeli military has allowed some wounded Palestinian civilians to cross into Egypt for treatment.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a post on X on Thursday that Israel has “an obligation to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and fully comply with international law.”
The White House said on Thursday that Israel agreed to pause military operations in parts of north Gaza for four hours a day, but there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting.
The pauses, which would allow people to flee along two humanitarian corridors and could be used for the release of hostages, were significant first steps, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested any pauses would be scattered, and there was no official confirmation of a plan for recurring breaks.
Asked if there would be a “stoppage” in fighting, Netanyahu said on the Fox News Channel: “No. The fighting continues against the Hamas enemy, the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period of a few hours here or a few hours there, we want to facilitate the safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fight and we’re doing that.”
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Maytaal Angel, Emily Rose and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Rami Amichay in Tel Aviv, Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, and other Reuters bureaus; Writing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry; Editing by Grant McCool & Simon Cameron-Moore)
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