Patients, medics flee south Gaza hospital after evacuation orders, WHO says

GENEVA (Reuters) -Gaza's European Hospital in Khan Younis is virtually empty with staff and patients fleeing the facility after the Israeli army ordered residents in the surrounding areas to evacuate, a World Health Official spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Thousands of Palestinians, many of them already displaced multiple times in the more than eight-month conflict, have fled parts of southern Gaza since Monday amid Israeli bombardments.

"The hospital staff and the patients decided to already evacuate themselves," said Rik Peeperkorn, WHO Representative for the occupied Palestinian territories, adding that just three patients remained. "We plea the European Gaza hospital will be spared, will be non-damaged," he told the U.N. press briefing, speaking by video link from Jerusalem.

An Israeli defence official said that although evacuation orders had been issued for the area in which the hospital is located, staff and patients were told they could stay.

We didn't give them any order to evacuate. So patients and the medical teams can stay over there. It's safe for them," said Colonel Elad Goren of COGAT, the Israeli Defence Ministry agency that coordinates with the Palestinians in a phone briefing with reporters.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had a medical team in the hospital, including surgeons, is moving its team and patients to a field hospital in Rafah-Mawasi, it said in a statement.

"As evacuations continue to affect so many people, it is critical that safe transport for those who are disabled, the elderly, and the sick is provided," it said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Emily Rose in Jerusalem: Editing by Madeline Chambers and Sharon Singleton)