An Israeli airstrike hit near the entrance of Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Friday, killing multiple people, according to Gazan and Israeli officials, just as Palestinians said a convoy of ambulances was preparing to leave the hospital carrying wounded people to the Gaza border, to cross into Egypt for treatment.
The Israeli military said it had carried out the strike on an ambulance “being used by a Hamas terrorist cell,” adding in a statement that “a number of Hamas terrorist operatives were killed in the strike.” An Israeli military spokesman, Maj. Nir Dinar, confirmed that it was the same strike that caused the explosion outside the hospital.
The head of Al Shifa Hospital, Dr. Mohammad Abu Salmiya, said that 13 people had been killed and many were injured. He said that paramedics and patients in the evacuation convoy were among the injured, but that none had been killed. The death toll could not be independently verified.
The explosion happened about 4:30 p.m., according to local reports.
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said in a statement on Friday that he was horrified by the strike and repeated his calls for a “humanitarian cease-fire.”
Hours earlier, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, Ashraf al-Qudra, had announced in a news conference that a convoy carrying “a large number of injured people” would head south on Al Rasheed, a coastal highway, at 4 p.m., toward the Rafah border crossing. A number of severely injured people have in recent days been taken to Egypt for medical treatment that is not available in the Gaza Strip.
In a later news conference, Mr. al-Qudra said that the convoy had left the hospital and had gotten to a nearby roundabout, Ansar, when it was hit by an airstrike. The convoy turned back, he said, and when it got back to the entrance of Al Shifa, it was hit again. He said 15 people had been killed and 60 wounded.
A statement late Friday from the Palestine Red Crescent Society said that there were five ambulances in the convoy, four operated by the Gazan Health Ministry and one by the charity. It said the ambulances left the hospital at 4:05 p.m. and headed toward the southern border, but after about 2.5 miles reached a crater in the road and had to turn back.
The statement said that when the returning convoy was less than a half-mile from the hospital, a strike hit the leading ambulance, which was operated by the Gazan health ministry. The other four ambulances proceeded to Al Shifa Hospital. When the Red Crescent Society’s ambulance reached within a few feet of the entrance, it, too, was hit, the statement said.
Al Shifa Hospital has been at the center of numerous claims and crises since the start of the war. Israel says that Hamas, which controls Gaza and orchestrated a deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7, is operating a command center beneath the hospital. Hamas has denied that.
Displaced Gazans are living in and around the facility, believing it to be safer than other alternatives.
The Gazan Health Ministry and international aid groups say Al Shifa is running out of fuel and has had to curtail operations amid a continued cutoff of electricity and fuel from Israel. Doctors have said they are treating large numbers of people wounded in airstrikes without enough medicine and supplies.
Ismail Alghoull, who was filming inside the hospital at that time of the explosion, said he heard a blast near the ambulances and ran outside to see what had happened. He saw dozens of casualties, he said.
Salama Maarouf, the spokesman for the Hamas-led Gaza administration, said that one of his employees, Haytham Harara, was among the dead.
Ali Jadallah, a photographer for Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, said that he was at the hospital with his sister. They were visiting their mother, who had been severely injured in an attack that destroyed their family home and killed four of their siblings as well as their father. They were near the entrance of the hospital when the explosion occurred, he said. His sister was hit by shrapnel.
Yousur Al-Hlou, Neil Collier, Patrick Kingsley and Nader Ibrahim contributed reporting.