U.N. says Israeli forces stalled evacuation convoy, forced paramedics to strip

By Thomson Reuters Feb 27, 2024 | 6:02 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) said on Tuesday the Israeli military had stalled a medical evacuation convoy in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, detaining a paramedic and forcing others to remove their clothes.

The incident occurred on Sunday during the evacuation of 24 patients from the city’s Al-Amal Hospital, it said. The Israeli military did not immediately comment, saying it was checking the details of the incident described by OCHA.

The hospital complex has been under siege during Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, aid agencies and Palestinian officials say.

“Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led (World Health Organization) convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital,” Jens Laerke, spokesperson for OCHA, told reporters in Geneva.

“The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes,” Laerke said. “Three Palestinian Red Crescent Society paramedics were subsequently detained, although their personal details had been shared with the Israeli forces in advance.”

He said one paramedic was later released and appealed for the release of the two others and all other detained health personnel.

Israel has previously said it takes steps to minimise civilian casualties and accuses Hamas fighters of hiding among civilians, including in hospitals. The militant group denies doing so.

Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies. The attack sparked Israel’s offensive in Hamas-run Gaza, which it says is intended to rescue the remaining hostages and eradicate Hamas. Health authorities in Gaza say nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed during the offensive.

Laerke said Sunday’s incident was not isolated, with aid convoys coming under fire, humanitarian workers harassed, intimidated or detained, and humanitarian infrastructure damaged.

Israel has previously denied blocking the entry of aid.

The flow of aid to Gaza from Egypt has dwindled, and it has become increasingly difficult to distribute food that does get through, according to U.N. data and officials.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Geneva and Emily Rose in Jerusalem; Editing by Timothy Heritage)