ASHDOD, Israel (AP) — The Israeli military said it carried out a deadly attack on an ambulance “used by a Hamas terror cell” in Gaza City on Friday. According to Palestinian health authorities, the vehicle was part of a convoy transporting wounded people from the besieged north of the Gaza Strip to the south.
At least 15 people were killed and dozens injured in the attack, which took place outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said in a television interview broadcast by Al Jazeera. The Palestine Red Crescent Society, a humanitarian organization, confirmed the information in a statement.
NBC News was not immediately able to independently verify the death toll or circumstances surrounding the strike.
Video posted on social media and verified by NBC News showed chaotic scenes: people lying bloodied and motionless on the ground. A man cries while carrying a boy whose face is covered in blood. Blood runs after the wounded as they are snapped out of their frenzy. A horse also appears dead on the ground, while several vehicles are damaged and covered in blood, including at least one ambulance.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health had previously announced that a “relief convoy full of wounded people” would set off south from Gaza City at 4 p.m. local time. It said the International Committee of the Red Cross had been asked to accompany the ambulance convoy.
The ICRC said it was aware of the convoy but was not involved in the operation. It condemned “violence against medical staff.”
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Both Al-Qudra and the Palestinian Red Crescent said the convoy had left Al-Shifa Hospital and was heading to the Rafah crossing on Gaza’s border with Egypt to transfer patients eligible for medical care in Egyptian hospitals . They said one of the ambulances was hit, causing several injuries, after the convoy reached a road that appeared to be damaged and changed course.
Then, after the convoy drove back to Al-Shifa Hospital, a second ambulance was struck outside the medical facility, killing several people in the explosion, it said. The Palestinian Red Crescent said the ambulance was hit just meters from the hospital gate. It said the vehicle was carrying a wounded person – a 35-year-old who was hit by shrapnel in the chest and leg and was receiving medical treatment in Egypt. NBC News was not immediately able to independently verify these details.
The Israel Defense Forces acknowledged that a plane hit an ambulance “identified by the armed forces as being used by a Hamas terrorist cell in the immediate vicinity of their position in the combat zone.” It said “several Hamas terrorists were killed in the attack.”
Hamas denied the presence of fighters in the ambulance convoy and said the IDF’s claims were “baseless.”
But the IDF said it had “information showing that Hamas’ modus operandi is to transport terrorists and weapons in ambulances.” It said more information about the incident would be made available, and the IDF had provided intelligence services, with whom she works, however, further details have already been provided.
Hamas has attempted to send wounded fighters along with civilians to Egypt for medical treatment through the Rafah border crossing, according to a senior U.S. government official. The fighters were ultimately not allowed to leave Gaza.
“We emphasize that this area is a combat zone. Civilians in the region are repeatedly urged to evacuate south for their own safety,” the IDF said.
The ambulances were trying to do just that – take people south to receive medical care, Nebal Farsakh, spokesman for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, told NBC News. Now she said: “We are extremely concerned for the safety of our colleagues carrying out their life-saving services in Gaza.”
“We call on the international community to intervene immediately to ensure the protection of our healthcare workers,” she said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least eight ambulances had “become inoperable due to Israeli attacks” since the start of the current conflict, which erupted after Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel on October 7. Health authorities have accused Israel of targeting the areas of several hospitals in its airstrikes, including Al Shifa, Al Quds and Indonesian hospitals.
‘Nowhere is safe’
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “horrified” by the ambulance attack and reiterated his calls for a humanitarian ceasefire.
“I am appalled by the reported attack on an ambulance convoy outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza,” he said in a statement released on Friday. “The images of bodies scattered on the street outside the hospital are shocking.”
“Civilians and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian and medical personnel and assets, must be protected,” he said, adding: “Civilians must also not be used as human shields.”
Guterres noted that civilians in Gaza, including children and women, have been killed and displaced for almost a month. “This has to stop,” he said, condemning the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
“There is not nearly enough food, water and medicine coming in to meet people’s needs. The fuel to run hospitals and waterworks is running out,” he said. “Morgues are overcrowded. The shops are empty. The sanitary situation is miserable. We are seeing an increase in illness and respiratory diseases, particularly in children. An entire population is traumatized. Nowhere is safe.”
Amid growing calls for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday ruled out a temporary pause in fighting and said he would continue Israel’s offensive until hostages captured by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack are released .
Netanyahu made the comments after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called for a temporary pause in Israel’s offensive to address the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, while demanding more be done to protect civilians there.
According to Israeli officials, Hamas took about 240 people hostage in its Oct. 7 attacks, killing more than 1,400 people. Since Israel launched its response, the death toll in Gaza has continued to rise. More than 9,400 people have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities, while the United Nations estimates more than 1.4 million people have been displaced.