Berliner Tageblatt - Bodies found at Gaza hospital as Israel vows to 'increase pressure' on Hamas

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Bodies found at Gaza hospital as Israel vows to 'increase pressure' on Hamas
Bodies found at Gaza hospital as Israel vows to 'increase pressure' on Hamas / Photo: © AFP

Bodies found at Gaza hospital as Israel vows to 'increase pressure' on Hamas

Gaza's civil defence said Sunday dozens of bodies had been found buried at a Gaza hospital complex previously raided by Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to ramp up military pressure on Hamas.

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Netanyahu, who threatened action "in the coming days" but did not specify, has repeatedly said the Israeli army will launch a ground assault on Rafah despite international concern for civilians who have taken refuge in the southern city.

The premier's latest remarks came a day after US lawmakers approved $13 billion in new military aid to close ally Israel, even as global criticism mounts over the dire humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, whose October 7 attack triggered the Gaza war, said the US aid was a "green light" for Israel to "continue the brutal aggression against our people".

Gaza's civil defence agency said its teams had discovered 50 bodies since Saturday buried in the courtyard of the Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza's main southern city of Khan Yunis.

"We are continuing the search operation today and are waiting for all graves to be exhumed in order to give a final number of martyrs," Mahmud Bassal, spokesman for the civil defence agency, told AFP.

"There were no clothes on some bodies, which certainly indicates (the victims) faced torture and abuse," Bassal said.

Israel's military said it was checking the reports.

Hamas in a statement said the 50 bodies were exhumed from what it called a "mass grave of those executed in cold blood and buried with military bulldozers in the hospital's courtyard".

The Israeli army said it was checking these reports.

Israel pulled its ground forces from Khan Yunis on April 7 after carrying out what it called a "precise and limited operation" at the hospital, one of Gaza's biggest.

Hospitals in Gaza have faced the brunt of the Israeli assault, with the military accusing Hamas of using the facilities as command centres and to hold hostages abducted in the October 7 attack, claims denied by the Palestinian militants.

On Sunday, an AFP photographer saw civil defence crews exhuming human remains from the courtyard, while grieving relatives collected bodies wrapped in white.

- 'Woke up to a nightmare' -

Netanyahu, in a video statement on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, said Israel "will deliver additional and painful blows" to Hamas.

"In the coming days we will increase the military and political pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to free our hostages," he said.

Israel estimates 129 captives remain in Gaza after the October 7 Hamas attack, including 34 who the military says are dead.

The army has said at least some of the hostages are held in Rafah, so far been spared an Israeli invasion and where most of Gaza's 2.4 million people have sought shelter.

Earlier this week, the G7 group of developed economies said that it opposed a "full-scale military operation" there, fearing "catastrophic consequences" for civilians.

Israeli forces had already been carrying out regular strikes on the city.

The civil defence agency said Israeli strikes hit two homes in Rafah overnight, killing at least 16 people, mostly children.

Resident Umm Hassan Kloub, 35, said her children screamed when they "woke up to a nightmare of an explosion".

"Every second we live in terror, even the sound of Israeli aircraft doesn't stop," she said.

Hamas's attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,097 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

- US boosts Israeli defences -

Violence has also flared in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where a two-year surge in clashes has further escalated since the Gaza war broke out.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Saturday that at least 14 people were killed during an 40-hour Israeli raid on Nur Shams refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

A resident who declined to give his name told AFP that the West Bank had become a "second Gaza".

Much of the new military assistance approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday was expected to be used to reinforce Israel's air defences.

Israel welcomed the aid, and Hamas condemned it as "a confirmation of the official American complicity and partnership in the war of extermination".

The boost for Israel's defences comes after almost all of the more than 300 missiles and drones that Iran launched towards the country a week ago were intercepted, according to the Israeli military.

Israel vowed to respond to Iran's first-ever attack on its territory, which was itself retaliation for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran's embassy consular annex in Damascus.

Israel's response appeared to come on Friday when explosions were reported in the central Iranian province of Isfahan.

However fears of wider war breaking out in the Middle East eased somewhat after Iran appeared to downplay the situation.

Israeli officials have made no public comment, while Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran would not respond unless there was a further Israeli attack.

On Sunday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the "success in recent events" of his country's armed forces, in his first comments since the attack on Israel.

"The issue of the number of missiles fired or the missiles that hit the target" was "secondary", he said.

Netanyahu has faced pressure within Israel, with an anti-government rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday demanding action to secure the release of hostages.

Ofir Angrest, whose brother Matan was kidnapped on October 7, called for Jewish Israelis to leave an empty chair at their Seder meals, marking the beginning of Passover on Monday, to remember the captives.

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S.Keller--BTB