BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Sunday condemned Hamas for using "hospitals and civilians as human shields" in Gaza, while also urging Israel to show "maximum restraint" to protect civilians.
Hospitals in the north of the Palestinian enclave are blockaded by Israeli forces and barely able to care for those inside, according to medical staff. Gaza's largest and second largest hospitals, Al Shifa and Al-Quds, said they were suspending operations.
Israel says Hamas has placed command centres under and near hospitals and it needs to get at them to free around 200 hostages the militants took in Israel in an attack just over a month ago. Hamas has denied using hospitals in this way.
"The EU condemns the use of hospitals and civilians as human shields by Hamas," European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement issued on behalf of the 27-nation bloc. "Civilians must be allowed to leave the combat zone."
At the same time, he urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint, stressing the obligation under international humanitarian law to protect hospitals, medical supplies and civilians inside hospitals.
"These hostilities are severely impacting hospitals and taking a horrific toll on civilians and medical staff," Borrell warned.
"Hospitals must ... be supplied immediately with the most urgent medical supplies, and patients that require urgent medical care need to be evacuated safely," he added. "In this context, we urge Israel to exercise maximum restraint to ensure the protection of civilians."
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Adam Makary; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Giles Elgood)