As Gaza residents brace for an Israeli ground offensive, after days of intense air strikes and a blockade, in response to the attack by the Palestinian group Hamas, health ministry official Ashraf Al-Qidra wonders how hospitals will cope.
Doctors have been scrambling to help a rising number of patients, including children injured in the air strikes, in overcrowded hospitals that are running short on medicines and fuel due to the blockade. Only the most acute cases are getting surgery because there are not enough resources, doctors say.
“If the hospital stops working, the whole world will be responsible for the lives of hundreds and thousands of patients who rely on our services, especially from Shifa,” said Qidra.
Shifa serves the entire Gaza Strip but more directly the around 800,000 people who live in Gaza City.
Israel is conducting its heaviest ever air strikes and is expected to launch a ground offensive in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world with 2.3 million people.
It has vowed to annihilate Hamas in retaliation for a rampage by its fighters in Israeli towns nine days ago in which its fighters shot men, women and children and seized hostages in the worst attack on civilians in the country’s history.
About 1,300 people were killed in the surprise onslaught, with graphic mobile phone footage and reports from medical and emergency services of atrocities in the overrun towns and kibbutzes.
‘This is so hard’
Some Palestinians have fled their homes in Gaza City after the Israeli military warned them to head south.
But some people have said they were in danger of Israeli air strikes on that journey, and some are returning north due to insecurity and a lack of anywhere to stay in an increasingly overcrowded south.
The Israeli military was not available for comment.
Palestinians in Gaza said Israel’s bombing campaign overnight was the heaviest since it launched its retaliatory attacks. Bombardment was especially heavy in Gaza City, with air strikes hitting the areas around two of the city’s main hospitals, they said.
Saeed Al-Abdala was lying on a hospital bed hooked to a dialysis machine. He escaped bombing at his home in Khan Younis.
“I am getting kidney dialysis, and this process is very challenging, we suffer a lot. We suffer from transportation and moving around,” he said.
Palestinian kidney patients lie on hospital beds, as health officials say they are running out of fuel to operate dialysis devices, amid the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at Naser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 15, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
“And now we are under war, war is destruction and death and torture. We are displaced from our houses and we are no longer in our homes. This is so hard.”
Diplomatic efforts are underway to try to open an Egyptian-controlled border crossing into Gaza, with foreign aid donations being delivered to the Egyptian side.
In Khan Younis’s Nasser Hospital, in the southern Gaza Strip, where ambulances carrying casualties continue to arrive, patients with chronic diseases face the prospect of medical devices failing.
“We have 220 (kidney) patients. Half of the devices will go out of service tonight and we will not be able to do dialysis for all of them,” said doctor Mohammed Zaqout. “This is a human catastrophe.”
Kidney patient Nahed Al-Khuzundar, who was forced to flee with his family from Gaza City to Khan Younis, said he had to take three dialysis sessions per week but has so far had none.
“My legs began to swell, I feel suffocated, and I need dialysis urgently,” Khuzundar told Reuters as he waited outside the kidney department at Khan Younis hospital, where dozens of wounded have been arriving, along with the bodies of the dead.