Operations at the Gaza Strip’s main hospital were showing signs of collapse Saturday, with its director and the Gaza Health Ministry describing power outages, shortages of water and medicine and a crisis in treating seriously wounded patients and vulnerable children, while battles between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters raged ever closer.
Israel’s ground invasion of the territory has moved deeper into Gaza City in the last few days, slowly closing in on the hospitals that have provided refuge for tens of thousands but that Israel says are shielding Hamas military operations in tunnels below.
Many doctors and nurses have vowed to stay and treat the wounded who keep pouring in, despite the dwindling supplies and an Israeli order to evacuate the northern half of Gaza. At four hospitals, though, doctors, patients and displaced residents were mostly able to evacuate as Israeli troops approached, the Israeli military and the Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday.
Israel’s military campaign against Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and the worsening humanitarian crisis there have drawn outcries from the United Nations and much of the world, fueling protests in major cities and anger across much of the Middle East. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for an end to Israel’s bombardment marched through London.
At a summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Arab leaders denounced Israel’s actions as “crimes” and called for an immediate cease-fire.
For Gaza’s hospitals, conditions are growing worse by the day. The principal hospital, Shifa, was struggling just to keep patients alive Saturday, a day after at least one projectile struck it.
The Gaza Health Ministry said that at least five wounded patients died Saturday at the hospital, including a premature baby in an incubator, as a result of the power outage. Without fuel to run generators, the hospital has been plunged into darkness, the Health Ministry and the hospital’s administrator said.
“Surgeries have had to stop,” said the hospital’s director, Dr. Mohammed Abu Salmiya. “Kidney dialysis has stopped and the neonatal unit is in a very dire situation. A baby has died because of lack of oxygen and electricity and heat.”
Israeli tanks and troops have surrounded several hospitals in the territory and attacked them, with snipers occasionally firing shots, according to the Health Ministry, doctors and some witnesses sheltering inside.
The Israeli military published a statement Saturday denying any siege or shooting at Shifa, but confirming clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas in the area.
The Israeli military has accused Hamas of operating an underground command center below Shifa, using it as a shield. The hospital’s administration and Hamas have denied that. Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesperson, told reporters Friday night that the Israeli military “does not fire on hospitals,” but added, “If we see Hamas terrorists firing from hospitals, we’ll do what we need to do.”
At four hospitals adjacent to one another in northern Gaza – the Rantisi children’s hospital, Al-Nasr Hospital and two other medical centers specializing in optometry and psychiatry – Palestinians have managed to evacuate, Yousef Abu al-Rish, the head of the Health Ministry in Gaza, said Saturday. Doctors had resisted evacuating for days as Israeli forces advanced.
“The patients were forced out into the streets – the ones who were left – and dispersed,” said Steve Sosebee of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which helps operate an oncology ward at the children’s hospital. “There was no coordinated effort to move them south. Everyone had to fend for themselves.”
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesperson, said Saturday at a news conference that Israeli forces had for weeks called for hospitals to evacuate in northern Gaza. Those warnings were repeated at the children’s hospital this past week, according to an Israeli military officer who helped oversee the operation and who spoke on condition of anonymity under military protocol.
After three days, Israel decided to change tack, the military officer said. Troops advanced toward the hospital and surrounded it, while opening a safe corridor for people to leave, he said.
The grim conditions of Gaza City are in part the result of an Israeli siege that has cut off water, food, electricity and fuel for weeks. Israel imposed the siege days after Hamas attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and seizing hundreds of hostages, according to Israeli authorities.
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In retaliation for the attack, Israel began bombarding Gaza. The toll on civilians in Gaza since then has drawn rising international outcry, and the United Nations, aid organizations and many countries have called for a cease-fire.
Because of Israel’s bombardment, the close-quarter battles in northern Gaza, periodic outages of phone and internet service and diminishing power to charge devices, it has become difficult for many people in Gaza City to make calls outside the Gaza Strip. Hospitals have remained among the few places where people have been able to describe conditions in Gaza City with some degree of consistency.
And, from all accounts, conditions at the hospitals have been deteriorating badly.
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Shifa and other medical centers in Gaza City had been struggling for weeks to maintain operations as supplies of fuel and medicine dwindled. Thousands of seriously ill and wounded patients and displaced people have been stranded on the grounds of Shifa, many hoping the hospital would be relatively safe.
That is no longer the case. “The place had that feel of mayhem, where things are out of control,” said Ghassan Abu Sittah, a British-Palestinian doctor who was at the hospital this past week. Many patients who could walk were moved to be with their families, he said in a phone interview Friday, “but there are a lot of people who can’t be moved.”
Shifa has dozens of premature babies in incubators that are no longer functioning, said Nasser Bulbul, head of the hospital’s premature and neonatal department.
“We have to transport the babies in blankets and sheets to another building” with a bit of electricity to power incubators, he said. He added that it was dangerous even to move from one building to another inside the medical complex.
Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, said Saturday that the Israeli military would help transfer babies out of Shifa, although the hospital director categorically denied that.
“The staff of the Shifa Hospital has requested that tomorrow we will help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital,” Hagari said at a televised news conference. “We will provide the assistance needed.”
“These words are completely false,” the director of Shifa said afterward. There was no safer hospital or any such coordination, he said.
Israel and the United States have resisted calls for a cease-fire, saying that would give Hamas, which both countries and many others consider a terrorist group, time to regroup. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that “far too many Palestinians have been killed,” and U.S. officials have raised pressure on Israel to allow more aid into the territory.
The Gaza Ministry of Health has said that more than 11,000 people have been killed since the war began last month, including more than 4,500 children. Israel has agreed to daily four-hour pauses in some areas of northern Gaza, according to the White House.
The Israeli campaign in Gaza has fueled anger throughout the Middle East, raising fears that the war could spread into a wider regional conflict. At the Arab summit in Riyadh, the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia, which restored diplomatic relations early this year, castigated Israel in vociferous terms. The de facto Saudi leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian catastrophe that shows the failure of the Security Council and the international community.”
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The outrage has mounted as Palestinians in Gaza, using their limited power and internet service, have shared images and videos of their experiences inside the Gaza Strip.
Mahmoud Abu Harbed, a resident of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, has been at Shifa Hospital for more than a month. He said Saturday that his home was hit by Israeli airstrikes early in the war, wounding his brother, and that they fled to the hospital.
“Everyone is on top of one another, displaced people, wounded people, even the medical staff,” he said. “They try to save this person and that person, but they can’t. There’s no electricity or medicine or anything,” he added.
Hospitals have not been the safe havens that many Palestinians in Gaza had hoped for. The United Nations has verified more than 250 attacks on health care facilities in Gaza and the West Bank, including hospitals, clinics, ambulances and patients, with five hospitals hit in the last week alone, the director-general of the World Health Organization said Friday.
“The situation on the ground is impossible to describe,” the director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the U.N. Security Council. “Hospital corridors crammed with the injured, the sick, the dying. Morgues overflowing.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.