Newborn babies, doctors and patients trapped in northern Gaza hospital

Up to 150 people trapped inside the Awda Hospital, according to acting director, amid renewed Israeli offensive

Surrounded by the sound of bombs, with terrified patients huddled far from windows, fuel running low and clean water gone, the acting director of one of the last hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip said he was grappling with a grim sense of deja vu.

“Nobody can move, nobody can be close to the windows,” because the hospital has seen this before, during an 18-day siege in December when three medical workers were shot and killed through the windows, said the acting director, Dr Mohammad Salha.

Since Sunday, about 150 people — including doctors, injured patients and infants, two of them born just days ago — have been trapped inside the Awda Hospital, said Dr Salha, amid a renewed Israeli offensive in the north.

The hospital was effectively besieged by Israeli forces, Dr Salha said in a phone interview and voice messages. People inside the hospital are unable to leave, outside help cannot reach them and ambulances cannot respond to calls to bring in the injured.


Medecins Sans Frontiers, which has staff members in the area, reported that the hospital was surrounded by tanks on Monday. An emergency medical team deployed at the hospital by the World Health Organisation (WHO) was forced to relocate on May 13th because of “intensified hostilities,” the head of the organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on social media on Tuesday, in an appeal for the protection of the remaining patients and staff.

The Israeli military declined to comment on its military operations around Awda.

The dire conditions at the hospital are part of a pattern that has played out repeatedly across Gaza over more than seven months of war. Israeli forces have surrounded and raided hospital after hospital, claiming they are being used by Hamas fighters. Israeli soldiers have returned to raid some hospitals a second time in response to what the military said was a resurgent Hamas presence.

In December, Israeli forces surrounded the Awda Hospital for nearly two weeks, then sent troops inside, killing several people and detaining others for interrogation, according to Medecines Sans Frontiers, whose staff members were among those detained.

The hospital’s director, Dr Ahmed Muhanna, was one of those taken into Israeli custody and his whereabouts remain unknown, according to ActionAid, a non-governmental organisation that supports the hospital. Salha has since been leading the hospital staff in his place.

The former head of orthopaedics at Shifa Hospital, Dr Adnan Ahmad Albursh, was also detained in December at Awda, where he had been working. He died in Israeli custody, Palestinian officials and rights groups said this month.

With no one able to enter or exit Awda, the doctors and patients have gathered in interior rooms and corridors to protect themselves from gunfire and shelling that is hitting the exterior walls, said Dr Salha.

He said four infants were among those trapped at the hospital — two were delivered by Caesarean section on May 18th, and two others are the children of nurses at the hospital.

On Monday, there were roughly three days of fuel left and no clean water, said Dr Salha. The people trapped inside are “very afraid,” he said.

The only other big hospital that was still partially functioning in the north, Kamal Adwan, was struck several times Tuesday, according to witnesses, Gaza health officials and the WHO. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the strikes.

Like Awda, Kamal Adwan was raided by Israeli forces in December, and it has since become a critical facility for treating malnourished children in the north.

Footage from Reuters showed people evacuating the area around the hospital Tuesday, some wearing white medical coats and others being wheeled out on trolleys. The hospital director, Dr Hussam Abu Safiya, told the news agency that after the entrance to the emergency department was bombed, missiles kept coming, preventing medics from reaching the victims.

“The situation is catastrophic,” he said.

— This article originally appeared in The New York Times.