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Israeli forces continue hospital raid as Netanyahu vows ‘action’ in Rafah

Displaced Palestinians camp Saturday near the border fence between Gaza and Egypt in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.  (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
By Kelsey Ables and Victoria Bisset Washington Post

Israeli forces arrested “large numbers” of medical and administrative staff at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza health officials said Saturday, as Israel’s raid of the complex continued for a third day.

The staff were detained while they were “performing their professional humanitarian duty in treating the wounded and sick,” the Gaza Health Ministry said in a statement Saturday evening local time.

The Israel Defense Forces said early Saturday that its troops arrested about 100 people “suspected of terrorist activity” inside the hospital and killed “terrorists around the area of the hospital.” The Gaza Health Ministry said that the IDF had turned Nasser Hospital, the main hospital in southern Gaza, into “a military barracks.”

A group of international doctors said in a statement Saturday that it had not heard from a colleague who worked at the hospital in more than a day. The doctors, who were consulting on the physician’s cases from abroad, said they were “deeply concerned that the Israeli military has abducted and unlawfully detained Khaled Al Serr.” The IDF said it was looking into the matter but did not provide an immediate response to questions about whether Al Serr had been arrested.

Gaza health officials said Friday that five intensive care patients had died because of a lack of oxygen, after the complex was left without electricity or water during the raid. The U.N. human rights office has expressed deep concern over the raid, saying it came “after a weeklong siege which cut off medical, food and fuel supplies” to the complex, and appeared “to be part of a pattern of attacks by Israeli forces striking essential life-saving civilian infrastructure in Gaza, especially hospitals.”

The IDF said in a statement to the Washington Post on Saturday that it was “well documented that Hamas uses hospitals and medical centers for its terror activities.”

International doctors volunteering at Nasser have said they saw no sign of militant activity on the premises, and critics have said Israel’s hospital raids have been disproportionate to any threat posed by militants who may have been operating there.

The raid in Khan Younis comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to move forward with a military campaign farther south, in Rafah, despite widespread international concern. World leaders, including President Biden, have warned that without proper precautions, the operation in Rafah could endanger the nearly 1.5 million Gazans crowded there, many of whom fled to the city along the Egyptian border from elsewhere in the narrow Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said he told Biden this week that “Israel will fight until achieving absolute victory. Yes, that includes action in Rafah.”

Such action would come “of course, after allowing civilians in combat zones to move to safe areas,” he said. It is unclear where the masses of people would go. Much of the Gaza Strip has been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable due to unexploded ordnance.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Saturday at the Munich Security Conference that Egypt will “not deal with the hypothetical” of hundreds of thousands of people spilling through its border. If such a scenario did occur, however, “we will deal with the humanity that is necessary … but that should not be construed as an encouragement or an acceptance,” he said.

Netanyahu said that “anyone who wants to prevent us from acting in Rafah is essentially saying to us, ‘You will lose the war.’ I won’t allow that.”

What else to know

• Twenty-two of Gaza’s 36 health facilities are not functioning at all, the World Health Organization confirmed to the Post in an email Saturday, while 11 others are only partially functioning.

- New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) came under criticism after appearing to imply that Israel had justification to destroy Gaza this week. “If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I’m sorry, my friends, there would be no Canada the next day,” Hochul said during a speech to a Jewish philanthropy event in New York on Thursday, before going on to say: “That’s a natural reaction.” She later apologized for a “poor choice of words,” saying in a statement Saturday that she regretted “using an inappropriate analogy that I now realize could be hurtful to members of our community.”

• Israel has expanded its allegations against the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, asserting there are “significant indications” that more than 30 UNRWA workers were involved on Oct. 7. UNRWA spokesman Jonathan Fowler said Israel did not detect that attack in advance, “implying that all involved … participated illicitly in ways that UNRWA also would have been unable to detect.”

• Egyptian and Israeli officials denied that Palestinian refugees would be pushed out of Rafah and into Egypt, after satellite imagery obtained by The Post showed Egypt clearing and building a wall around a plot of land along its border with Gaza. “The State of Israel has no intention of evacuating Palestinian civilians to Egypt,” Israel’s defense minister said. Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, said Saturday that “we have constantly been dealing with maintenance on our border.”

• At least 28,858 people have been killed and 68,677 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel estimates about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says at least 235 of its troops have been killed since its offensive in Gaza began.

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Itay Stern in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.