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Tuesday, 14 November 2023 10:59

Gaza hospital must be protected as tanks close in |Biden.

Staff Reporter.

With Israeli tanks now massed at the gates of Gaza's largest hospital, US President Joe Biden pressed his ally to protect scores of civilians trapped inside with dwindling supplies of fuel and water Monday.

After days of heavy air strikes around Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, witnesses said tanks and armoured vehicles were metres from the gate of the besieged facility, which has become a focal point of the five-week-old war.

The United Nations believes that thousands, and perhaps more than 10,000 people -- patients, staff, and displaced people desperately seeking shelter -- may be inside and unable to escape because of fierce fighting nearby.

Amid reports of incubated babies dying for lack of electricity and patients facing sniper fire, a surgeon working for Doctors Without Borders said the situation inside the hospital had become "very bad".

"We don't have electricity. There's no water in the hospital. There's no food," said the doctor, who was not named by his organisation. "It is inhuman."

Israel accuses Hamas fighters of using tunnels under the hospital as a command node, effectively engaging the sick and injured as human shields. It is a charge that Hamas denies.

Israel says it is not targeting the hospital, but its leaders have vowed to rout the Palestinian militant group -- retribution for the attacks of October 7, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians.

In some of his most pointed comments on Israeli operations to date, US President Biden called on Israel to use "less intrusive action relative to the hospital".

"The hospital must be protected," he told reporters in the Oval Office.

Hamas's brutal attacks of October 7 and Israel's massive response have ignited global public opinion, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in the Middle East, Europe and beyond.

Israel's supporters insist it must protect citizens after the worst attack in the country's 75-year history -- an attack that brought painful echoes of past pogroms against the Jewish people.

Israelis also stress the need to recover an estimated 240 hostages taken by Hamas when they stormed across the militarised border from Gaza

But Israel's critics point to the searing toll of a blockade and near-relentless bombing campaign on long-suffering citizens of Gaza.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says Israel's assault has already killed 11,240 people, including 4,630 children.

International aid agencies speak of hundreds of thousands of people displaced and a rolling humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel's top diplomat admitted Monday that his nation has "two or three weeks until international pressure really steps up."

Quoted by his spokesman, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen added that Israel is working to "broaden the window of legitimacy, and the fighting will carry on for as long as necessary."

- Truce talks -

In the face of mounting pressure, Israel has agreed to daily pauses in military operations around specified humanitarian "corridors" to allow Gazans to flee fighting.

Israeli leaders have so far insisted there will be no broader ceasefire before hostages are released.

But Qatar is mediating talks on a possible deal to free the hostages.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas's military wing, said Monday that a possible deal would involve the release 100 Israeli hostages in return for 200 Palestinian children and 75 women held in Israeli prisons.

"We informed the mediators we could release the hostages if we obtained five days of truce... and passage of aid to all of our people throughout the Gaza Strip, but the enemy is procrastinating," Abu Obeida said in an audio statement.

Biden said he was "somewhat hopeful" the Qatar-mediated talks could lead to a deal.

"There is an effort to take this pause to deal the release of prisoners, and that's being negotiated as well with -- the Qataris are engaged and -- so, I remain somewhat hopeful," he said.

As security officials and diplomats continued negotiations, Hamas released a video of a young woman who was said to be an Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

The Israeli army later confirmed the identity of the woman.

"Our hearts go out to the Marciano family, whose daughter, Noa, was brutally kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist organisation," the army said in a statement released shortly after midnight.

"We are using all means, both intelligence and operational, to bring the hostages home."

- Spillover -

The war in Gaza has also spurred violence to Israel's north and east.

There were reports of multiple clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian fighters in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian healthy ministry said at least one Palestinian was killed in fighting around the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

After repeated strikes on American forces in the Middle East, the United States launched air attacks that killed at least eight pro-Iran fighters in eastern Syria, a war monitor said.

On Monday Israel used fighter jets to strike what it said were "operational command centres" belonging to Iran-backed militia Hezbollah inside Lebanon.