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U.N. and medical agencies condemn Israel's Gaza ambulance strike

United Nations in New York City

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - The United Nations Secretary General and aid agencies working in Gaza have condemned Israel's air strike on an ambulance on Friday, which the Israeli military said, without showing evidence, was carrying Hamas militants.

The Health Ministry, a hospital director and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Hamas-controlled enclave have said the Israeli strike targeted a convoy of ambulances evacuating wounded people from the besieged northern Gaza area.

Mohammad Abu Selmeyah the director of al-Shifa Hospital, where an ambulance was hit, said 15 people had been killed in the strike and 60 injured. Those killed and injured were mainly people standing by the hospital gate, rather than inside the vehicles, he said.

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Israel's military said late on Friday it would present more evidence that an ambulance it struck was being used by Hamas to transport fighters and that the group used ambulances to move militants and weapons as "a method of operation". Hamas has denied both accusations.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a social media post on Saturday "I am horrified by the reported attack in Gaza on an ambulance convoy".

The World Health Organisation said it condemned the strike and the medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres described it as "horrendous", and "a new low in an endless stream of unconscionable violence".

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) said in a statement that a group of five ambulances was seeking to transport people wounded by Israeli bombardment from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The journey would have required crossing from the northern half of the enclave, which has now been entirely surrounded by Israeli forces, into the southern area where Israel has not yet sent ground troops, but which it is also bombarding.

Abu Selmeyah said the wounded people being evacuated in the convoy had their names listed at Rafah for permission to enter Egypt. Egypt's Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment but a statement it put out on Friday said that 28 injured people had been expected at Rafah on that day.

EVACUATION

Israel's military assault, aimed at destroying Hamas, is a response to the militant group's Oct. 7 attack on Israeli towns which Israel says killed 1,400 people. Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say Israeli bombardment has killed 9,488 people.

The PRCS said Friday's ambulance convoy was forced to turn back some 4 km (2.6 miles) from the hospital because the road was blocked with rubble from shelling.

As it returned through Gaza City, about 1km from the hospital, the lead ambulance was targeted by a missile that damaged it, wounding both its crew and the injured patient inside, the PCRS said.

The organisation said it was responsible for one of the five ambulances in the convoy carrying a 35-year-old woman with shrapnel injuries. It said as it was unloading the woman from the ambulance at the hospital gate, another missile struck the vehicle injuring the driver and a medic.

Videos verified by Reuters of the aftermath showed numerous people lying prone in pools of blood near ambulances.

MSF quoted one of its doctors working at al-Shifa hospital, whom it identified as Dr. Obaid, saying "We were standing inside the hospital gate when the ambulance was directly hit in front of us. There were bloody bodies everywhere".

Asked about the incident, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said "we are heartbroken to see medical services in Gaza put in harm's way".

The ICRC spokesperson said the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which said it owned one of the ambulances in the convoy, has "a strong track record providing life saving services. Like all the organisations forming part of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement they are bound by principles of neutrality and impartiality".

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Additional reporting by Sarah El Safty in Cairo and Oliver Hirt in Geneva; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)