• Israeli military ‘found nothing’ during searches of hospital complex, doctor says
• Gaza City’s last functioning hospital also closes surgery
• WHO wants patients in enclave moved to Egypt
GAZA STRIP: The Gaza health ministry said on Friday that 24 patients at a hospital in the war-torn enclave had died within 48 hours due to power outages, as Israeli forces searched the complex for Hamas hideouts.
The situation was dire at the Al-Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza, which Israel’s army said it was searching for a third day for suspected hideouts of fighters from the Hamas’ armed wing.
The Israeli military claimed on Thursday it had uncovered a Hamas tunnel shaft and a vehicle with weapons at the Al Shifa hospital complex.
Hamas rejects an Israeli charge that it has a command centre at the hospital, packed with patients and displaced people and struggling to keep operating, has become a focus of global concern. The hospital also denies the claim.
“Twenty-four patients… have died over the last 48 hours” at Al-Shifa hospital “as vital medical equipment has stopped functioning because of the power outage”, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
A doctor at Al Shifa also said on Friday Israeli forces had “found nothing” during searches of the hospital complex, and that food and water were running out.
Doctor Ahmed El Mokhallalati told Reuters by telephone that despite the “difficult” conditions at the hospital, no babies had died there since Israeli troops entered it on Wednesday.
“It’s a totally terrifying situation, here the Israeli tanks and the Israeli troops have been moving within the hospital area, all over the hospital,” said Mr Mokhallalati, a surgeon born in Ireland who trained in Cairo and practiced in London.
“The situation is totally difficult. They are shooting all the time, all the areas,” he said. “They have found nothing. They have found no single resistance. No single gunshot, against them within the hospital area.”
He added, “What happened is that the people, we run out of food, we ran out of drinking water.”
WHO seeks flow of patients to Egypt
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation called on Friday for a regular flow of patients to be allowed out of Gaza for treatment in Egypt, to relieve the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals.
The WHO said a system needed to be set up to get priority cases out of the besieged Palestinian territory.
Twenty-five out of 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip are not functioning and the remainder are struggling to provide services. “This is clearly not enough to support the endless needs arising due to the hostilities,” said Richard Peeperkorn, the WHO representative in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Addressing a press briefing in Geneva, he called for daily sustained, orderly, unimpeded and safe medical evacuations of critically injured and sick patients into neighbouring Egypt.
Speaking via a video link from Jerusalem, Mr Peeperkorn said 50 to 60 patients a day ought to be transferred into Egypt, “where they will get — and they deserve — the right treatment and care”.
Moving priority patients to Egypt “will also relieve part of the overwhelmed current health sector so that we can address the other needs in a better way”, he said.
“We are, as WHO, extremely worried for the safety of patients, health and workers, not just at Al-Shifa but other hospitals as well,” he said. “Health facilities, health workers, ambulances and patients must be safeguarded.”
Mr Peeperkorn said that prior to the conflict, there were around 3,500 hospital beds across Gaza, and now there are an estimated 1,400. “Based on our plans, the needs at the moment would be 5,000 beds,” he said.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) earlier said its aid trucks were unable to enter Gaza from Egypt for a second straight day due to the lack of fuel and a near-total communications blackout.
UNRWA said it would be unable to “manage or coordinate humanitarian convoys” from Friday because of the telecommunications outage.
The last hospital fully functioning in the northern half of Gaza, Ahli Arab, just over three kilometres away from Al Shifa, was forced to close its surgery department after it ran out of anaesthetics.
British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, who escaped on foot to the south, told Reuters he had decided to leave because he was now powerless to help patients.
“It has been a living nightmare — leaving 500 wounded knowing that there’s nothing left for you to be able to do for them, it’s just the most heartbreaking thing I ever had to do,” Mr Abu Sitta said by phone.
In a post on X, he wrote: “No longer able to provide surgeries at Ahli Hosp. The hospital is now effectively a first aid station. Hundreds of wounded now at hospital with no access to surgery. They will die from their wounds.”
Israel under pressure
Israel has come under increasing pressure to back up its allegations that Hamas is using hospitals as command centres.
The United States has stood behind its ally, however, with President Joe Biden this week saying he had asked Israel to be “incredibly careful” in its military moves around Gaza hospitals.
More than half of Gaza’s hospitals are no longer functional due to combat, damage or shortages.
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2023