Israel sent troops into Nasser Medical Complex on Thursday in what it said was a search for Hamas fighters and the bodies of hostages, an incursion that raised alarm over the fate of hundreds of patients and medical workers and the many displaced Palestinians who had sought shelter there from the war.

The raid came two days after Israel’s military ordered displaced people to evacuate the hospital, the largest in southern Gaza and one of the last ones functioning in the enclave, and after warnings by health officials that a military operation there could be catastrophic for civilians.

Ashraf al-Qudra, the Gazan health ministry’s spokesman, said that the Israeli military had demolished the southern wall of the complex and begun storming it, overrunning the ambulance center and an area where displaced people had been living in tents.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which has staff members at the hospital, said that shelling on Thursday morning had left “an undetermined number of people killed and injured” and called on Israel to halt the operation. Videos posted to social media on Thursday and verified by The New York Times show scenes of confusion, with people carrying backpacks and rolled-up bedding lined up inside the hospital grounds as a voice on a loudspeaker, apparently that of an Israeli soldier, tells them to leave.

The Israeli military said that special forces soldiers were “conducting a precise and limited operation inside Nasser” against Hamas, which it accused of hiding in the hospital among wounded civilians. Israel, which has said that Hamas uses hospitals across Gaza as cover for military operations, said it had intelligence, including from released hostages, that Hamas had held captives at the hospital and that their bodies might be there.

Neither Israel’s claims nor those of the Gazan authorities could be independently verified.


Tents of

displaced

people

Tents of

displaced

people

On Thursday, Israel said that it had detained “a number of suspects” at Nasser, in the city of Khan Younis, and Dr. al-Qudra said that Israeli forces had bulldozed graves on the hospital grounds. In past raids on Gaza hospitals during the war, the Israeli military has arrested medical staff members and dug up graves, saying it was searching for hostages’ bodies.

Hamas and hospital administrators have denied that Hamas uses medical facilities for military operations. International law experts have said Israel is obligated to protect hospitals and other civilian infrastructure with only narrow exceptions, such as if they are clearly being used for military purposes.

The Israeli military has faced rising international condemnation for its actions against Gazan hospitals, mosques and schools, and on Thursday it said that it aimed to ensure that Nasser could continue treating patients despite the military operation. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said that at the hospital’s request, the military had arranged to allow international aid groups to deliver medical supplies and equipment to the hospital in recent days, including oxygen tanks and fuel.

As anesthesia, fuel, food and medical supplies run low at Nasser, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday that Israel had prevented aid deliveries to the hospital twice in recent days. Israel has denied blocking aid, and on Monday said the W.H.O. should avoid “baselessly accusing” it of doing so.

Nasser has become a focus of Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas in southern Gaza, and doctors there have described bombings and gunfire killing people inside the complex as Israeli forces edged toward its gates. After the Israeli military ordered displaced people sheltering there to evacuate, hundreds of Palestinians fled the hospital on Wednesday, although it was unclear where they would go in a territory pounded by airstrikes and riddled with fighting.

Video

Hundreds of displaced Palestinians fled Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza on Wednesday, following evacuation orders from Israel.CreditCredit…@mo_elhelo21 via Storyful

Admiral Hagari said the Israeli military had opened a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to leave the complex safely. But some Palestinians who left Nasser on Thursday risked drone fire outside, according to Mohammad Salama, a journalist who fled the hospital.

On Tuesday, doctors and health officials said that people who had tried to flee the hospital came under fire, and that some were killed.

Nir Dinar, a spokesman for the Israeli military, pushed back on suggestions that Israel had attacked evacuees, saying that he “would be happy to see some evidence.”

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Rawan Sheikh Ahmad from Haifa, Israel, Ameera Harouda from Doha, Qatar, and Adam Sella from Tel Aviv.