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Attacks on Gaza's biggest hospital intensify

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Catastrophic is how Doctors Without Borders describe the situation at Gaza's biggest hospital. Overnight, the group said attacks on the Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, quote, "dramatically intensified" and that it has lost contact with staff there.

NPR's Lauren Frayer joins us from Tel Aviv. Lauren, thanks for being with us.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about the situation in Gaza's hospitals?

FRAYER: Well, this morning, Gaza's health ministry said Al-Shifa Hospital has now run out of fuel and suspended operations. There are reports of patients dying, including a newborn baby in an incubator that turned off when the power shut off. Israel says Hamas' main command center is underneath this hospital. Hamas and Al-Shifa staff deny that. Palestinian officials say this hospital and witnesses nearby say this hospital has been hit by Israeli bombs and artillery. Israel says at least one of those attacks was actually a militant rocket that misfired. Thousands of people have camped out in and around this hospital complex. Today, they see Israeli troops approaching from the ground. Israel's military says it's trying to evacuate these hospitals so it can deal with Hamas. Today, it said it evacuated a children's hospital, Al-Rantisi, but that Hamas members slipped out mixed in with doctors and civilians. The World Health Organization says the majority of Gaza's hospitals are no longer functioning. A U.N. spokesperson said, quote, "if there is hell on earth, its name is northern Gaza."

SIMON: United Nations says about two-thirds of the residents in Gaza have been internally displaced. What can you tell us about their efforts to leave - and can they even?

FRAYER: Israel's pausing attacks in certain areas for a few hours at a time. Today, an Israeli military spokesperson tweeted out guidance in Arabic that's aimed at people in Gaza - though many people there don't have internet - saying safe passage is open for a few hours today along two corridors - one inland, one newly opened seaside route, as well as in a refugee camp called Jabalia, which has been absolutely flattened. The U.N. says more than 150,000 people have used these evacuation corridors. NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, has been talking to some of them.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: We met this man holding a wooden stick just to hold the weight of their baggages for the long walk.

ABU AHMED: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: This man, Abu Ahmed, says his home was shelled. He describes being shot at. He says he's been walking more than an hour in the heat. Our producer, Anas, has also been sending us video of whole families stumbling south, children waving white handkerchiefs. And Scott, I want to note these evacuation routes don't take you to safety. They take you to southern Gaza - away from the ground battles, but where you're still vulnerable to strikes from the air.

SIMON: Lauren, health officials in Gaza say more than 11,000 people have been killed there in more than a month of military strikes, and there are growing calls for Israel to exercise restraint. What is the Israeli reply?

FRAYER: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Hamas started this. He accuses Hamas of using human shields. He has ruled out anything more than these little pauses in attacks in certain areas. He says there will be no cease-fire without the return of hostages. Around 240 hostages are being held in Gaza. There are rumors of prisoner swaps, negotiations. That's obviously secret. We have nothing public on that yet.

And Scott, Israel, overnight, revised down its own death toll from the October 7 attacks to around 1,200. That's 200 fewer victims than Israel has been citing for the past month. Many of the bodies that day were burned and mutilated. The process of identifying them is still underway. But it was that volume of loss of life that prompted Israel to launch the attacks on Gaza that we're still seeing today.

SIMON: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Tel Aviv. Thanks so much.

FRAYER: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.