Israel strikes ambulance near Gaza hospital, 15 reported killed

GAZA (Reuters) -An Israeli air strike on an ambulance being used to evacuate the wounded from besieged northern Gaza killed 15 people and injured 60 others on Friday, the Hamas-controlled enclave’s health ministry said.

Israel’s military said it had identified and hit an ambulance “being used by a Hamas terrorist cell”. It said Hamas fighters were killed in the strike, and accused the group of transferring militants and weapons in ambulances.

Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq said allegations its fighters were present were “baseless”. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry, said the ambulance was part of a convoy that Israel targeted near Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital.

Qidra said Israel had targeted the convoy of ambulances in more than one location, including at al-Shifa Hospital gate and at Ansar Square a kilometer (0.6 miles) away.

In a statement on the incident, Israel’s military gave no evidence to support its assertion that the ambulance was linked to Hamas but said it intended to release additional information.

“We emphasize that this area is a battle zone. Civilians in the area are repeatedly called upon to evacuate southwards for their own safety,” the military said.

Reuters was unable to independently verify either side’s account.

Video shared on social media, which Reuters has verified, showed people lying in blood next to an ambulance with flashing lights on a city street as people rushed to help.

Another video showed three ambulances standing in a line, with about a dozen people lying either motionless or barely moving next to them. Blood was pooled nearby.

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a social media post he was “utterly shocked by reports of attacks on ambulances evacuating patients”, adding that patients, health workers and medical facilities must be protected.

Earlier on Friday, Qidra said ambulances would send critically injured Palestinians who urgently need to be taken to Egypt to be treated from besieged Gaza City to the south of the enclave.

Israel, which has accused Hamas of concealing command centres and tunnel entrances in al-Shifa hospital, ordered all civilians to leave the north of Gaza last month and its military encircled the area on Thursday.

Despite its order for civilians to leave northern areas of Gaza, Israel’s military has continued to bombard the south of the strip as well.

Hamas and al-Shifa hospital authorities have denied the facility is used as a base by militant fighters.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams, Alistair Bell and by Sandra Maler)