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Crisis in Gaza’s largest hospital: ‘We need to evacuate now, but they shoot everyone who tries to escape’

Khaled Abú Hamra, a health worker at the Shifa medical center, describes to EL PAÍS the chaos prevailing in the midst of the Israeli army’s attacks on facilities without food, water or electricity.

Palestinian patients and internally displaced persons on Friday at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza Cit
Palestinian patients and internally displaced persons on Friday at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza CitKHADER AL ZANOUN (AFP)

A family of four carrying a white flag was trying to escape Saturday morning from Gaza’s Shifa hospital, besieged by the Israeli army, when it came under fire. A few meters from stepping on the street, several shots killed the mother and one of the two children and wounded the father and the other minor. Dr. Khaled Abú Hamra, one of the doctors who are still holding out at the main health center in the capital of the Strip, told EL PAÍS in a telephone conversation. He assures that it happened around midday and, more than an hour later, they have not even been able to collect the bodies.

“We need to evacuate the hospital now, but they shoot everyone who tries to escape,” adds the doctor, who describes a situation of “complete chaos,” without internet, electricity, food or water and with “many victims on the ground.” Neither patients nor refugee citizens or staff can leave the facilities due to the constant shelling and shooting, denounces Abu Hamra.

20 of the 30 hospitals in the Gaza Strip are not functioning, according to Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila, who claims that operations are being carried out on the floor and without anesthesia. The lack of electricity supply at Shifa hospital is keeping 38 premature babies in incubators at “risk of death” due to lack of oxygen, the minister added in a statement. One of the babies had died shortly before the update.

The tanks are located about twenty meters from the Al Quds hospital in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. They claim that some 500 patients and more than 14,000 displaced inhabitants seeking protection, mostly women and children, should be protected in that center, warns the spokeswoman of that institution, Nibal Farshak, in a message published on the social network X (formerly Twitter). “Our teams are trapped inside the hospital while Israeli tanks and vehicles surround it from all sides while artillery is firing and there is heavy gunfire that has left a number of wounded so far unknown,” she added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also warns of difficulties with “thousands of wounded, displaced and medical personnel at risk”, as denounced by the regional director of the institution, Fabrizio Carboni, on the social network X, while requesting that they be protected in accordance with the laws of war.

The situation is “catastrophic” at the Shifa hospital, according to a statement from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which continues to have staff at the facility. One of them, Dr. Mohammed Obeid, warned on Friday: “There are many recently operated patients who cannot walk. They cannot evacuate. They need an ambulance to move them, and we don’t have ambulances to evacuate all these patients,” according to the testimony transcribed by the NGO, which also calls for an end to the attacks on hospitals.

The alternative is to leave on foot, with Israeli troops already fighting in the heart of Gaza City, where the hospital is located. “We cannot leave the hospital. We can’t leave because from morning until now we operated on 25 patients. If neither I nor the other surgeon is here, who will take care of the patients?” the health worker adds. “As a doctor, I took an oath to help people who need help. So if they want to bomb me, I will be no better than the others,” Obeid concludes.

Israel claims to have killed a Hamas official, Ahmed Siam, who was holding some 1,000 Gazans “hostage” in Rantisi hospital and was not allowing them to leave the city southwards, as demanded by the military authorities. Siam was in a nearby school with other colleagues when he was attacked, according to Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari.

The siege by Israeli troops on the hospital centers in northern Gaza has become tighter and tighter in recent days. Military spokesmen insist that these infrastructures, although they receive wounded, civilian refugees and medical personnel, are also a base for Hamas militiamen, whom they accuse of fighting out of uniform in order to be mistaken for civilians. According to the army, Hamas maintains one of its command centers in a facility located under the Shifa hospital.

Since the war began on October 7, more than 11,000 Gazans, mostly women and children, have already died as a result of the Israeli military operation.

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