Gaza’s hospitals strain as doctors killed and facilities damaged in Israeli strikes

Health system already depleted by blockade ‘lacks many things even in normal times’

Palestinian doctors rush to treat a wounded girl who arrived with her family at Al-Shifa Hospital after intensive bombardments in Gaza City. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty

Palestinian doctors rush to treat a wounded girl who arrived with her family at Al-Shifa Hospital after intensive bombardments in Gaza City. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty

 

In her bed in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, 25-year-old Aya Aloul recalls the moment her 66-year-old father, Moeen, one of Gaza’s few neurologists, was killed in an Israeli strike, one of two key Palestinian medical staff killed within hours on Sunday.

Covered in wounds and bruises caused by shrapnel and falling masonry, she described the bombing of the family’s home in the Rimal neighbourhood.

“I get scared,” Aya said on Monday, “so, since the war began, I’ve slept next to my parents’ bed, putting a mattress on the floor.

“I was lying awake chatting with a friend on WhatsApp while my mum and dad were sleeping, when suddenly the sound of the bombing started violently. Within a second it was black. I couldn’t see anything, and I found myself on the ground in the street.”

The shops below the building where her family lived had been hit by an Israeli munition, and Aya and her parents were left trapped in the rubble.

“There was a lot of concrete on top of me. My mother was next to me under a lot of rubble too ... I got out and I tried to free my mother, but I could not.

“I ran until I found a street with lights on, and started screaming loudly. Then neighbours came and I asked them to get my mother out.”

Aloul’s mother was eventually dug out, but her father was killed in the attack, one of 42 Palestinians to die that day.

Also killed in the same barrage was Dr Ayman Abu al-Auf, the Shifa hospital’s head of internal medicine and the head of its coronavirus response, who was also buried in rubble from a collapsing building on Gaza City’s al-Wehda Street on Sunday.

Later that morning colleagues at the hospital held an impromptu funeral to commemorate Abu al-Auf, who also taught medicine in several Palestinian universities in the Gaza Strip, and was responsible for training new doctors at the hospital.

Damaged facilities

While the deaths of the two senior doctors on Sunday have attracted the most headlines, Gaza’s medical system has been damaged in other ways.

According to a bulletin by the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of noon on Saturday four hospitals run by Gaza’s ministry of health had sustained damage, along with two hospitals run by NGOs, two clinics, a health centre and a facility belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

According to Palestinian health officials, damaged facilities included the Hala al-Shawa clinic, which was no longer operating, as well as the Indonesian hospital in the northern Gaza Strip and the Beit Hanoun hospital, which have also been damaged.

The medical facilities were damaged in what some emergency workers have described as destructive violence that surpassed even the 2014 war that lasted 50 days.

“I have not seen this level of destruction through my 14 years of work – not even in the 2014 war,” said Samir al-Khatib, an emergency rescue official in Gaza.

Egyptian help

Some respite was offered by Egypt’s decision to open the southern Rafah border crossing to evacuate some of the wounded, the situation remained critical.

Also among the facilities damaged on Sunday was a clinic run by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), which also said that a clinic that provided trauma and burn treatment had been hit by an Israeli missile in Gaza City.

Even before that strike, MSF medical co-ordinator Dr Natalie Thurtle had warned of the danger facing Gaza’s already depleted health system.

“The 14-year Israeli blockade on Gaza means that the health system here lacks many of the things it needs to treat people even during normal times,” Thurtle said last week.

“Yet every few years it is called on to deal with a huge influx of wounded: 11,000 injured during the 2014 war; more than 7,000 shot during protests in 2018 and 2019; and now already hundreds injured in bombings and dozens dead since [last] Monday.”

While Israel has accused Hamas in the past of using medical facilities as a cover for its activities, the situation in Gaza is complicated by the fact that fighters with militant groups often rely on civilian hospitals for treatment, while the ministry of health in Gaza is run by the Hamas government.

Gaza has a number of hospitals, and often well trained and dedicated staff, but equipment is often ageing and basic. – Guardian

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