UN relief workers visiting Gaza hospitals describe 'unbearable' scenes

AP , Thursday 21 Dec 2023

U.N. relief workers on Thursday reported “unbearable” scenes in two hospitals in northern Gaza, where bedridden patients with untreated wounds cry out for water, the few remaining doctors and nurses have no supplies, and bodies are lined up in the courtyard — signs of the worsening humanitarian crisis after 10 weeks of the Israeli war on Gaza.

Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip
Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip. AP

 

The relief workers spoke after delivering supplies a day earlier to Ahli and Shifa hospitals, which are located in the heart of the north Gaza battle zone where Israeli troops have demolished vast swaths of the city.

Bombardment and fighting continued Thursday, but with Gaza's internet and other communications cut off for a second straight day, details on the latest violence could largely not be confirmed.

Israel says it is in the final stages of clearing out Hamas militants from northern Gaza, but that months of fighting lie ahead in the south. The war sparked by Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 rampage and captive-taking in Israel has killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children. Some 1.9 million Gaza residents — more than 80% of the population — have been driven from their homes.

With supplies to Gaza cut off except for a small trickle, the World Food Program has said 90% of the population is regularly going without food for a full day.

A blast Thursday morning hit the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into Gaza, forcing the U.N. to stop its pickups of aid there, according to Juliette Touma, spokesperson of UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. At least four people were killed, the nearby hospital reported.

Israel had begun allowing aid to enter Gaza through Kerem Shalom only days earlier for the first time in the war, under pressure from the United States to ensure more help gets to Palestinians. Palestinian authorities blamed Israel for the blast, but its cause could not immediately be confirmed.

Only nine of Gaza's 36 health facilities are still partially functioning — and all are located in the south, the World Health Organization said.

In the north over recent weeks, Israeli forces have raided a series of health facilities, detaining men for interrogation and expelling others. In other facilities, patients who are unable to be moved remain along with skeleton staff who watch over them but can do little beyond first aid, according to U.N. and health officials

Ahli Hospital is “a place where people are waiting to die,” said Sean Casey, a member of the WHO team that visited the two hospitals Wednesday. Five remaining doctors and five nurses along with around 80 patients remain in Ahli, he said.

All of the hospital buildings are damaged except two buildings were patients are now being kept — the orthopedics ward and a church on the grounds, he said. He described entering the compound, strewn with debris, and a crater from recent shelling in the courtyard. Bodies were lined up nearby, but doctors said it was too unsafe to move them with the fighting still outside, he said.

Inside the church, it was “an unbearable scene,” he said. Patients with traumatic wounds were struggling with infections. Others had undergone amputations. “Many patients said they hadn’t changed their clothes in weeks,” he said. “Patients were crying out in pain but were also crying out for us to give them water.”

Hamas fired a large barrage of rockets at central Israel on Thursday, showing its military capabilities remain formidable. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, but the rocket attack set off air raid sirens in Israel's commercial hub of Tel Aviv.

Hamas militants have put up stiff resistance lately against Israeli ground troops, and its forces appear to remain largely intact in southern Gaza, despite more than 2 1/2 months of heavy aerial bombardment across the territory.

Israel has vowed to continue the offensive until it destroys Hamas’ military capabilities and returns scores of captives captured by Palestinian militants during their Oct. 7 rampage. Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people that day, mostly civilians, and captured around 240 others.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has continued to support Israel’s campaign while also urging greater efforts to protect civilians.

But in some of the toughest American language yet, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said "It's clear that the conflict will move and needs to move to a lower intensity phase.” The U.S. wants Israel to shift to more targeted operations aimed at Hamas leaders and the tunnel network.

U.N. Security Council members are negotiating an Arab-sponsored resolution to halt the fighting in some way to allow for an increase in desperately needed humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.

A vote on the resolution, first scheduled for Monday, was pushed back again on Wednesday in the hopes of getting the U.S. to support it or allow it to pass after it vetoed an earlier cease-fire call.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Tuesday the death toll since the start of the war had risen to more than 19,600. 

Israel’s military says 137 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive. Israel says it has killed some 7,000 militants, without providing evidence.

Search Keywords:
Short link: