KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip -- Hundreds of patients, medical staff and people displaced by Israel's war against Hamas left Gaza's largest hospital Saturday, with one evacuee describing a panicked and chaotic scene as Israeli forces searched and face-scanned men among those leaving and took some away.
Israel's military has been searching Gaza City's Shifa Hospital for a Hamas command center that it alleges is located under the facility -- a claim Hamas and hospital staff deny. The evacuation, which Israel says was voluntary, left behind only Israeli troops and a small number of health workers to care for those too sick to move.
"We left at gunpoint," Mahmoud Abu Auf told The Associated Press by phone after he and his family left the crowded hospital. "Tanks and snipers were everywhere inside and outside." He said he saw Israeli troops detain three men.
Elsewhere in northern Gaza, dozens of people were killed in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp when what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded U.N. shelter in the main combat zone. It caused severe destruction in the camp's Fakhoura school, said wounded survivors Ahmed Radwan and Yassin Sharif.
"The scenes were horrifying. Corpses of women and children were on the ground. Others were screaming for help," Radwan said by phone. AP photos from a local hospital showed more than 20 bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets.
The Israeli military, which had warned Jabaliya residents and others in a social media post in Arabic to leave, said only that its troops were active in the area "with the aim of hitting terrorists." It rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it targets Hamas while trying to minimize civilian harm.
"Receiving horrifying images & footage of scores of people killed and injured in another UNRWA school sheltering thousands of displaced," Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, said on X, formerly Twitter.
In southern Gaza, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building on the outskirts of the town of Khan Younis, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.
Israeli forces are prepared to expand their offensive in the Gaza Strip "in every place that Hamas is, and it is in the south of the strip," the chief Israeli military spokesperson said Friday, signaling a significant shift in Israel's focus after three weeks of ground operations in the north and more than five weeks of airstrikes on the enclave.
In an evening news briefing, the spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said that the Israeli military was operating with "clear goals" in an operation that he said was taking place on the ground, by air and by sea.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel's forces have begun operating in eastern Gaza City while continuing its mission in western areas. "With every passing day, there are fewer places where Hamas terrorists can operate," he said, adding that the militants would learn that in southern Gaza "in the coming days."
Israel "will continue to operate everywhere in Gaza," Hagari said.
The indication that Israel will expand its ground operation in Gaza to the south raises questions about where Palestinian civilians have left to flee to. Palestinians in Gaza have been saying for weeks that no place within their borders is safe. Hundreds of thousands have followed Israeli directives to evacuate northern Gaza and move to the south, only to come under fire from Israeli airstrikes. The evacuation zone is already crammed with displaced civilians, and it was not clear where they would go if the offensive moves closer.
In the occupied West Bank, the Israeli military said its aircraft struck what it described as a hideout for militants in the urban refugee camp of Balata. The Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service said five Palestinians were killed. The deaths raised to 212 the number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank since the war began.
The war was triggered by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted some 240 men, women and children. Fifty-two Israeli soldiers have been killed.
More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants; Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
What led to the Shifa Hospital evacuation was not immediately known. Israel's military said the hospital's director asked it to help those who would like to leave to do so and that it did not order an evacuation. But Medhat Abbas, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, said the military ordered the facility cleared and gave the hospital an hour to get people out.
A Shifa physician, Ahmed Mokhallalati, said on social media that about 120 patients remained, including some in intensive care and premature babies, and that he and five other doctors were staying.
Twenty-five of Gaza's hospitals are not functioning because of a lack of fuel, damage and other problems, and the other 11 are only partially operational, according to the World Health Organization.
Israel has said hospitals in northern Gaza were a key target of its ground offensive, claiming they were used as militant command centers and weapons depots, which both Hamas and medical staff deny.
Internet and phone service were restored Saturday to Gaza, ending a telecommunications outage that had forced the United Nations to shut down critical aid deliveries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that the Israeli military would have "full freedom" to operate within the territory after the war. The comments again put him in conflict with U.S. visions for a post-war era in Gaza.
Israel-Hamas war, week 7
In an op-ed published Saturday in The Washington Post, President Joe Biden said Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited and governed under a "revitalized Palestinian Authority" while world leaders work toward a peaceful two-state solution. Netanyahu has long opposed a Palestinian state.
The U.S. is providing weapons and intelligence support to Israel in its offensive to root out Hamas.
FUEL FOR GAZA
Gaza's main power plant shut down early in the war, and Israel has cut off electricity. That makes fuel necessary to power generators needed to run water treatment plants, sanitation facilities, hospitals and other critical infrastructure for Gaza's 2.3 million people.
Hagari said that concerns about the humanitarian situation and the needs of Palestinians had motivated the Israeli government to agree Friday to allow fuel for aid groups into the territory. He said the fuel would help address concerns about humanitarian conditions as the Israeli military continued its mission. The fuel will be able to be used by the U.N. to operate desalination plants to create clean drinking water, among other uses, Israeli officials said Friday, after dwindling fuel supplies were threatening to shut down humanitarian operations.
UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma said 31,700 gallons of fuel arrived, enough for two days, for the U.N.'s use after Israel agreed to the shipment. Israel also is allowing 2,642 gallons to keep internet and telephone systems running. It was not immediately clear when UNRWA would resume aid that was put on hold Friday during the communications blackout.
Gaza has received only 10% of its required food supplies each day in shipments from Egypt, according to the U.N., and the water system shutdown has left most of the population drinking contaminated water. Dehydration and malnutrition are growing, according to the U.N.'s World Food Program.
Information for this article was contributed by Najib Jobain, Bassem Mroue, Samy Magdy, Julia Frankel, Cara Anna and Hannah Schoenbaum of The Associated Press and by Ephrat Livni of The New York Times.