IDF denies Episcopal Church claim it ordered evacuation of Gaza hospital

Palestinians walk at the entrance of a UNWRA school used as shelter in Gaza City on November 27, 2023. Omar El-Qattaa / AFP) (Photo by OMAR EL-QATTAA/AFP via Getty Images)
Palestinians walk at the entrance of a UNWRA school used as shelter in Gaza City on November 27, 2023. Omar El-Qattaa / AFP) (Photo by OMAR EL-QATTAA/AFP via Getty Images) | Omar El-Qattaa/AFP via Getty Images

The Israeli Defense Forces have rejected an allegation leveled by The Episcopal Church that it ordered the evacuation and closure of a church-run hospital in the Gaza Strip.

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem claimed Monday that the IDF "compelled" it to close the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City and evacuate all the staff and patients from the facility during its ongoing war with the terror group Hamas. There was military activity that took place in the vicinity of the hospital on Sunday.

Responding to the allegation, the IDF told Reuters in a statement that it ordered civilians in certain areas of Gaza City to evacuate so it could reduce potential civilian casualties as it launched new military operations against terrorist groups. The IDF says it told Palestinian health authorities that hospitals could remain in use and there was no need to evacuate. 

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Specifically, the IDF told civilians on Sunday to leave the Tuffah, Daraj and Old City neighborhoods of Gaza City as they launched new operations and to go to the shelters located on the western side of the municipality. Al Ahli is situated near Tuffah.

On Monday, the Israeli army sent out an updated announcement, according to The Times of Israel. IDF called on Palestinian civilians in the Sabra, Rimal, Tel al-Hawa and Daraj neighborhoods to evacuate due to the fighting and to head to the designated "humanitarian zone."

Marwan al-Sultan, director of the Indonesian Hospital, reported that it received 80 patients and wounded people from Al-Ahli who had to be packed into "every corner," reported the Times.

"Many cases require urgent surgeries. Many cases suffer from direct shots in the head and require intensive care. Fuel and medical supplies are dwindling," al-Sultan said, adding that his hospital received the bodies of 16 people killed in the Israeli incursion, half of whom were women and children.

Israel began its military offensive in Gaza last October in response to Hamas, a terror group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, launching a surprise attack in southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people. Around 240 were abducted. The Israeli government's stated goal with the offensive is to eradicate Hamas and secure the release of hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says that over 38,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began but doesn't differentiate between combatants and civilians.

In a statement on Monday, Archbishop Hosam Naoum, primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, denounced the Israeli military.

"We protest the closure of our hospital in the strongest possible terms," said Naoum. "In a time of warfare and great suffering it is essential that emergency healthcare services are maintained to treat the injured and the dying."

Outgoing Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also denounced the hospital's reported forced closure and evacuation in a statement released by The Episcopal Church's Office of Public Affairs.

"This action violates the dignity of already-vulnerable people and is against international humanitarian law," said Curry. "Let us pray particularly for the safety of the hospital's patients and staff — and those who had been sheltering at the hospital who are now displaced again."

During its  81st General Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky, last month, the Episcopal House of Bishops rejected resolutions that would have labeled Israel an apartheid state and endorsed divestment efforts against Israel but did pass measures calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. 

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