Medics discover with horror relatives among Gaza dead

Published October 29, 2023
People sift through the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli strikes on Al-Shatee camp in Gaza City on October 28. — AFP
People sift through the rubble of a destroyed building following Israeli strikes on Al-Shatee camp in Gaza City on October 28. — AFP

KHAN YUNIS: Mahmud Al Astal is one of many medics providing life-saving care as casualties flood hospitals in Gaza, only to one day discover his sister and her entire family among the dead.

“I went to the morgue and found her charred and in pieces,” the 34-year-old doctor said by phone from the main hospital in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip.

“On the third day of the fighting, while I was working at the emergency unit in Nasser Hospital, I discovered my sister had been killed with her husband and children,” he said.

Those strikes razed entire buildings, including one where Astal’s 40-year-old sister Sadafah died along with her husband, Hussein, also 40, and their children Fadwa, Azar, Ahmad and Suleiman, aged between six and 13.

“Ever since my sister was killed... the nightmares don’t leave me. I imagine that my children will arrive at the hospital in pieces,” Astal said.

“My children dream of travelling one day. Now I don’t know if they will come out of this war alive.”

Despite the tragedy, he is determined to continue his vital work. “We have no other choice but to work and serve the injured to save them.”

‘Stench of death’

Wearing a red medics vest, he examines a young girl bleeding from a head injury who is crying in the emergency room. “Don’t be scared,” he consoles her.

Walaa Abu Mustafa, 33, also works as a doctor in the hospital’s emergency unit.

She too was stunned to find her aunt Samira and her husband Tawfik and their 15-year-old son Sharif among the victims of an Israeli strike who arrived at the hospital on Friday.

Samira and Sharif were already dead on arrival while Tawfik succumbed to his wounds shortly afterwards, she said.

“The torn body of my cousin arrived wrapped up in a sheet,” she said.

“My aunt was like a mother to me,” she continued, struggling to catch her breath. “I can’t speak, I’m in shock over what happened.”

But she too has vowed to “continue my work, because it’s my duty and there aren’t enough doctors”.

Her co-worker, respiratory physician Raed Al Astal, was at the hospital on Monday when he received a panicked call from his wife saying a strike had hit the building opposite theirs.

He hurried to the emergency unit where the victims had been taken, and found his relatives were among the dead.

“My aunt, her husband and their children as well as my cousin’s wife were killed,” he said.

“The stench of death is everywhere, in every neig­h­bourhood, every street and every house.”

Published in Dawn, October 29th, 2023

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