Israeli forces have raided a major hospital in northern Gaza, forcing patients and staff to evacuate.

After a four-day blockade at Al Awda Hospital, a major medical center in northern Gaza, the Israeli army on Wednesday ordered patients and staff to evacuate and then raided the complex, according to Gaza health officials.

While most of the approximately 150 people who had been at Al Awda Hospital managed to evacuate, around 30, including critically ill patients, their carers and healthcare workers, remained behind, Dr Medhat Abbas, spokesperson for the Ministry of Gaza Healthcare said in a statement on Thursday.

The Israeli army declined to comment on its operations around Al Awda, which is located in the Tal Al-Zaatar area of ​​northern Gaza. Israel withdrew from much of the north earlier this year but has recently returned to some areas to fight what it believes are attempts by Hamas to rebuild its forces there.

The hospital's acting director, Dr. Mohammad Salha, said he had told Israeli forces that he would not move some critical patients without ambulances. He said he had remained there, along with some health workers, to ensure the safe evacuation of patients.

“They are crushing everything, they have destroyed the doors,” Dr Salha said. “They are checking every inch of the hospital,” he added in a voice message from inside the hospital early Thursday morning.

Naji Ziadeh, a member of the hospital's administrative staff, said the patients were “besieged for four whole days, during which we experienced indescribable horror.” In a telephone interview he said that a tank had approached the hospital entrance on Wednesday and that troops used loudspeakers to order everyone to evacuate.

Israeli forces then began escorting patients and staff members out of the hospital and searching them one by one, Ziadeh said. They were then taken to a warehouse and asked to move north to Gaza city.

Mr Ziadeh said he “shed tears of anguish” as he evacuated the hospital, where he, like Dr Salha, had worked and lived since the war began. “It's our home,” he said.

Those trapped inside the hospital during the lockdown, with little fuel and no clean water, included two newborns and their mothers, who delivered them by caesarean section, Dr Salha said. He added that the staff members he was in contact with had evacuated to Gaza City and were seeking refuge.

The hospital's terrible conditions are part of a pattern that has played out repeatedly across Gaza over the course of more than seven months of war. Israel raided several hospitals after accusing Hamas, the armed group that carried out the attack in southern Israel on October 7, of using them for military purposes, claims that Hamas and hospital administrators have denied.

Like many medical facilities, Al Awda has been subject to repeated attacks. In November, Doctors Without Borders said three doctors, including two staff members, had been killed in a strike against the hospital.

The hospital also faced a siege that lasted nearly two weeks in December, during which several health workers in the building, including an MSF surgeon, were shot at from outside, the aid group said. The Israeli army then took control of the hospital and stripped and detained people for questioning, MSF said.

The hospital's director, Dr. Ahmed Muhanna, was one of those taken into Israeli custody and his whereabouts remain unknown, according to ActionAid, another non-governmental organization that supports the hospital.

Ameera Harouda contributed reporting from Doha, Qatar.

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