Israeli incursion could halt Rafah’s last functioning hospital, says WHO

Published May 29, 2024
Palestinians fleeing unsafe areas in Rafah arrive with their belongings in Khan Yunis, further north in the southern Gaza Strip, following renewed Israeli strikes on May 28, 2024. — AFP
Palestinians fleeing unsafe areas in Rafah arrive with their belongings in Khan Yunis, further north in the southern Gaza Strip, following renewed Israeli strikes on May 28, 2024. — AFP

• Almost 100pc of medical supplies, essential medicines and equipment come through a crossing which is now under siege
• Unicef says a typical person in the southern Gaza city has access to just one litre of water per day

GENEVA: A World Health Organisation official said on Tuesday the last hospital in Rafah could stop functioning and a substantial number of deaths could be expected if Israel launches a “full incursion” into the southern Gaza city.

“If the incursion would continue, we would lose the last hospital in Rafah,” Richard Peeperkorn, the WHO representative for Gaza and the West Bank, said on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, as Israeli tanks were reported to have advanced into the centre of Rafah.

He said that in the case of a “full incursion”, a contingency plan involving treating patients in a string of ill-equipped field hospitals “will not prevent what we expect: substantial additional mortality and morbidity”.

Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive stirred renewed outrage after an airstrike on Sunday ignited a blaze in a tent camp in a western district, killing at least 45 people. Peeperkorn said that of the three hospitals in Rafah, only one was “barely functional”.

He said the El-Najar Hospital, which had previously serviced 700 dialysis patients, was no longer operating.

Rafah was a major entry point for humanitarian relief before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gaza side of the border earlier this month and seized control of the crossing from the Palestinian side. Peeperkorn said its closure had had a direct impact on WHO’s ability to get medical supplies into Gaza.

“Almost 100 per cent of the medical supplies, essential medicines, equipment, they actually come from Al-Arish (in Egypt) through the Rafah crossing,” he said. “There are currently 60 trucks that are in Al-Arish waiting to get into Gaza.” Since the Rafah closure, WHO has only been able to get three medical supply trucks through Kerem Shalom, a crossing from Israel, Peeperkorn said.

Shortage of water

Separately, Unicef spokesperson James Elder said that a typical person in Rafah had access to around just one litre of water per day, “catastrophically below any emergency level”.

More people will die in Gaza because medical evacuations from the Palestinian territory have halted since Israel launched its offensive in Rafah three weeks ago, the World Health Organisation said.

The WHO has long been pleaded with Israel to allow more critically ill and wounded people to leave Gaza.

Thousands of Gazans are estimated to require urgent medical evacuation but few have been able to leave the besieged territory.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that since Israel launched a military offensive in the densely crowded southern city of Rafah in early May, “there’s been an abrupt halt to all medical evacuations”.

She warned that the cut-off obviously meant more people will die waiting for treatment.

Before October 7, between 50 and 100 people left the enclave every day for treatment not available in the territory, including for cancer. “Those people didn’t go away simply because conflict started, so they all still need a referral,” Harris told reporters in Geneva.

Since services in Gaza have been disastrously disrupted by the conflict, far more people need to leave for treatment they used to access inside Gaza, like chemotherapy or dialysis, she said.

In addition, thousands now need to evacuate after suffering severe injuries in the war.

“If they don’t get the treatment sadly they die,” she commented.

10,000 waiting

WHO estimates that there are now typically “around 10,000 people who need to be evacuated… to receive the much-needed medical treatment elsewhere”, Harris said.

They include more than 6,000 trauma-related patients and at least 2,000 patients withchronic conditions, like cancer, she said. Since medical evacuations halted on May 8, an additional 1,000 critically ill and wounded patients have been added to that list, Harris said.

Before the cut-off, WHO had received approval from Israel for 5,800 medical evacuations — about half of the number it had requested since the war began. Of the 5,800, only 4,900 patients had been able to leave, Harris said.

Without treatment ‘you die’

Even more people require medical evacuation after an Israeli strike set fire to a displacement camp in Rafah on Sunday killing 45 people. Hundreds of civilians were left with shrapnel and burn wounds, according to Gaza officials and medics.

Harris pointed out that severe burns require “very, very complex treatment”, and “if you don’t get that treatment, you die”. The charred carnage, blackened corpses and children being rushed to hospitals after Sunday’s strike has caused global outcry. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the deaths were a “tragic accident”. James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency Unicef, dismissed that assertion.

“I guess the question is what then to call the ferocious attacks that have killed thousands and thousands of children … (or) the countless children who have had arms and legs amputated or the thousands who have been orphaned?” he asked. “I think surely the question that needs to be asked is how many more mistakes is the world going to tolerate?”

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

KP’s ‘power struggle’
Updated 21 Jun, 2024

KP’s ‘power struggle’

Instead of emboldening protesters, CM Gandapur should encourage his provincial subjects to clear their due bills and ensure theft is minimised.
Journalist’s murder
21 Jun, 2024

Journalist’s murder

ANOTHER name has been added to the list of journalists murdered in Pakistan. On Tuesday, Khalil Jibran’s vehicle...
A leaner government?
21 Jun, 2024

A leaner government?

FINANCE Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb has reiterated his government’s ‘commitment’ to shutting down ministries...
Kindness needed
Updated 20 Jun, 2024

Kindness needed

This year’s World Refugee Day theme — solidarity with refugees — includes keeping our borders accessible and addressing the hurdles they face.
Fitch’s budget note
20 Jun, 2024

Fitch’s budget note

PAKISTAN’S ongoing economic crisis is multifaceted. At one end, the government must pursue stabilisation policies...
Cruelty to animals
20 Jun, 2024

Cruelty to animals

TWO recent incidents illustrate the immense cruelty many in this country subject voiceless animals to. In the first...