UN reports horrific mass graves at Nasser & al-Shifa hospitals on the Gaza Strip

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The Civil Defence in Gaza recover bodies from the mass grave dug by the Israeli army in the courtyard of the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis

THE DISCOVERY of hundreds of mass graves at the Nasser and al-Shifa hospital complexes, where United Nations (UN) officials reported that bodies were ‘buried deep in the ground and covered with waste’, has led its officials to call for an international probe into the horrors being uncovered.

‘Everywhere you walk there are graves, decomposing bodies or potentially people buried under the rubble’, a resident of northern Gaza’s al-Rimal neighbourhood described mass graves at two of the largest medical complexes in the besieged coastal territory. More than 400 bodies have been recovered at the Nasser Hospital in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, while around 300 bodies have been discovered at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

The deceased include ‘older people, women and wounded, while others were found tied with their hands…tied and stripped of their clothes,’ said the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani.

While the Israeli military downplayed reports about mass graves as ‘baseless and unfounded’, it made the mistake of admitting to having dug up bodies that had been previously buried, in the process of trying to explain away the irrefutable evidence documented.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reported that ‘the presence of urinary catheters or splints, which were found to be still attached to some of the dead patients’ bodies during the exhumation process, as well as medical files that were buried with them in Al-Shifa Medical Complex, confirm the execution of ill and injured people.’

The Switzerland-based rights group also reported that some of the ‘victims’ decomposing bodies were found in several places, with some having been run over by Israeli bulldozers which left their bodies torn into pieces’ and that Israeli forces had been using Palestinian civilians at al-Shifa Hospital as human shields.

Gaza’s civil defence also called for help in forensic examination to find out more about 20 bodies that they believe were buried alive.

Palestinian journalist, Motasem A Dalloul, who is based in northern Gaza, was one of the first on the scene to witness the aftermath of al-Shifa Hospital and had to reach the area on bicycle as the roads were too severely damaged for vehicles.

Iran based Press TV website spoke to him around an hour after he finished documenting the horrifying scenes in and around the coastal territory’s largest hospital complex.

Describing the scene upon his arrival at the scene of the hospital, he said that ‘the Israeli invasion resulted in the destruction of an area of 1000 metres around al-Shifa Hospital.’

‘Homes, schools, mosques, in addition to the actual hospital were all destroyed. I saw everything, I saw unprecedented destruction and as I arrived there, I went to the main gate of al-Shifa Hospital and as I walked forward I saw that it was blocked with the burned remains of two destroyed ambulances and so I entered through a hole in the wall beside it,’ he said.

Dalloul then described the scenes of destruction upon entering the hospital’s grounds:

‘I found all the buildings were affected. The main building, which included the reception and the surgery department, was completely destroyed. The special surgery building, which included the ICU and the operation rooms and the patient beds, was completely destroyed,’ he narrated.

‘It had not collapsed but was destroyed from the inside and completely burned. I then went through the other buildings, walking through the maternity ward and the cancer treatment facility which were, in addition to the administrative building, everything was either partially or completely destroyed, or burned out.’

‘If you enter the medical complex from the East to the West, on your right-hand side there is a mass grave. I saw parts of bodies on the surface of the soil. I saw decomposing hands and parts of heads. When I counted the number of bodies that were visible, I counted that around 15 people were visible in this mass grave,’ he explained with unutterable grief and sorrow.

‘I saw bodies of people who were either killed or executed inside the buildings and around the yards of the hospital.’

‘Hospital is gone forever’, Dalloul said, when he spoke to Dr. Marwan Abu Saada, the director of al-Shifa Hospital’s ICU department, he was told that it would take 10 years to rebuild such a facility and that the ‘hospital is gone forever’.

He added that Dr. Saada was in tears while he was explaining the extent of the unprecedented damage at the hospital that remained in the news for several weeks due to the military siege.

Since then, the ICU department director has publicly appealed to the international community to launch a probe into the Israeli military siege, death and destruction at the al-Shifa Hospital.

Reports have also emerged detailing the horrifying cases of children searching for the remains of their grandparents, parents and siblings – an unimaginable situation for anyone to go through.

Motassem also told the news agency that there was an urgent need for supplies at the time in order to help identify the bodies.

On the day the Israeli military withdrew from al-Shifa after weeks of siege, there were bodies of children, women and men that were left in the streets, many of which were already decomposed or badly mutilated by tanks and bulldozers, so the only way to identify the dead was from their clothing.

A harrowing case reported by Mondoweiss, during the aftermath of the Al-Nasser Hospital invasion, confirmed that the process of identifying the bodies in mass graves was similar to what occurred at al-Shifa.

A 51-year-old man named Ayman, who visited the hospital with his wife and one of his sons, was left searching through ‘a pit of bodies buried, cut up’ that were in pieces and left scattered amongst bags of garbage, stating that his son ‘was wearing the blue wool sweater.’

‘I bought it for him. I know everything he wears and can identify him by his clothes,’ he said.

A Palestinian man, pleading anonymous, who was seeking shelter at the Al-Nasser Hospital complex, but left before Israeli forces stormed and occupied it, said he wasn’t at all surprised.

‘They used drones to shoot at us if we moved, many were killed like this every day and when the tanks came we chose to leave because it was not safe. Everyone knew that the Israelis would kill many, including many of the medical staff and they still stayed to perform their jobs,’ he said,

‘We remember the bravery of the doctors and medical staff, they were heroes and the Israelis don’t care for human lives. Look what they did at every hospital, at schools, at our homes. They killed people holding up white flags, the mass graves are not just at the hospitals, they are everywhere and the death toll is so much higher than we are told I am sure.’

Important to note is that although two of the largest mass graves that have been discovered to date are those outlined here, yet there are around 13,000 Palestinians still missing and buried in the rubble throughout the Gaza Strip.

In January, 50 bodies were discovered at the Khalifa Bin Zayed elementary school in northern Gaza’s Beit Lahia, a school being used for shelter by displaced refugees, while another 30 bodies were discovered dumped in black bags amongst garbage at the Hamad School; the bodies were decomposing but showed signs of torture and many were found with their hands and feet bound.

Israel is also known for holding the dead bodies of slain Palestinians, with various reports stating that when they were returned to their families, their organs were missing.

This even prompted the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor to call for an international inquiry into the seizure of bodies and possible organ trafficking.

Amongst the abuses that have occurred at the Nasser Hospital and al-Shifa Hospital are the deprivation of food, water and medical care to the sick and injured; in addition to various forms of torture, arbitrary executions and even sexual violence.

The United Nations recorded at least two cases of Israeli soldiers raping Palestinians in February, yet, after countless allegations of rape and other forms of sexual violence, again, there has been no international probe into these credible reports.

With the discovery of the mass graves at the al-Shifa and Nasser medical complexes, there is an urgent need for international, independent probes into the conduct of the Israeli regime’s ground forces, believe human rights experts.

The mass graves are only part of the gruesome series of massacres but should be a turning point due to the sheer scale of murdered and mutilated bodies found, they state.