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Deadly Israel strike on Gaza ambulance convoy sparks condemnation

Onlookers outside Gaza's largest hospital Al-Shifa gather around a Red Crescent ambulance damaged in a deadly Israeli strike
— Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

An Israeli strike on a Gaza ambulance convoy has killed 15 people, Palestinian medics said Saturday, spurring concerns for health workers' safety as Israel accused Hamas of using the vehicles to transport fighters.

Since a shock Hamas attack on October 7, which Israeli officials say has killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, Israel has bombarded the besieged Gaza Strip, where some hospitals have been damaged and faced severe shortages of fuel and supplies.

More than 9,200 people have been killed so far in Gaza by the Israeli military campaign, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said in a statement one of its ambulances had been struck "by a missile fired by the Israeli forces", about two metres (6.5 feet) from the entrance to Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

The strike on Friday killed 15 people and wounded 60 others, it said, mirroring figures released earlier by the Hamas-run health ministry.

An AFP journalist at the scene saw multiple bodies beside the damaged ambulance outside the hospital.

Israel's military said it had carried out the air strike on an ambulance "used by a Hamas terrorist cell in close proximity to their position in the battle zone," killing a number of Hamas operatives.

Another ambulance, belonging to the health ministry, was "directly targeted" by a missile around one kilometre (0.6 miles) from the hospital, causing injuries and damage, the PRCS said.

Hamas denied that its fighters had been inside the vehicles, which it said were hit by Israeli forces while transporting wounded people from Gaza City towards the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

According to the PRCS, the convoy of five ambulances left Al-Shifa hospital shortly after 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and headed south.

The convoy, consisting of four ambulances from the Hamas-run health ministry and one belonging to the PRCS, had to turn back after hitting a stretch of road "blocked by large quantities of rubble and rocks" due to shelling, the statement said.

As the ambulances headed back towards the hospital, a first "missile" strike hit a health ministry ambulance, damaging the vehicle and injuring the people inside, according to the PRCS.

A second deadly strike hit the PRCS ambulance, carrying a wounded woman, as it approached Al-Shifa's gates, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

It said "the deliberate targeting of medical teams constitutes a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions, a war crime."

- UN 'horrified' -

More than 23,500 people have been wounded across Gaza in four weeks of war, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Some 16 hospitals across Gaza are no longer functioning because of damage from strikes and the lack of fuel, according to the Hamas authorities that rule Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement he was "horrified by the reported attack in Gaza on an ambulance convoy outside Al-Shifa hospital".

He added that the deadly fighting "must stop".

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "utterly shocked" by reports of attacks on ambulances evacuating patients.

Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza's largest, has a bed occupancy rate of 164 percent according to the WHO, which on Wednesday warned a shortage of fuel for generators "immediately risks the lives" of patients.

Israel has long accused Hamas fighters of using hospitals and schools, charging that the armed group was using Palestinian civilians as "human shields".

On Friday, a senior White House official said Hamas tried to use a US-brokered deal on opening the Rafah border crossing to get its fighters out of Gaza and into Egypt.

One-third of the names on a list provided by Hamas of wounded Palestinians for evacuation were those of Hamas members and fighters, the official said.

"That was just unacceptable to Egypt, to us, to Israel," the official added.