Major Gaza hospital reopens amid the chaos of war

AFP , Sunday 19 May 2024

Lying bedridden in her room at the recently reopened Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in Gaza, Alaa Abu Ahmed is relieved that she can finally restart her medical treatment.

Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis
Palestinians work on rehabilitating the devastated Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. FP


Displacement because of the Israeli war in the Palestinian territory interrupted Abu Ahmed's treatment for a chronic condition.

Over a week in February, the hospital was attacked when Khan Younis was the focus of fighting and soldiers raided it, searching for Israeli captives

Now hallways are filled with still-wrapped boxes of equipment, and some semblance of order is returning to the facility.

While air strikes, bombardment and fighting continue to rock other areas of Gaza, in Nasser the beds have been straightened, the debris cleared and white coats bearing Doctors Without Borders (MSF) logos mix with the blue uniforms of local medics.

The international NGO has just resumed work at the hospital, the most important in the southern Gaza Strip.

"Thank God MSF was able to start working again at Nasser Hospital and I returned for treatment," Abu Ahmed said.

"My condition has improved, but I did spend some time afraid that what happened at Al-Shifa hospital would repeat itself," she added of the territory's largest hospital, in Gaza City.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Al-Shifa has been reduced to an "empty shell" by fighting.

Humanitarian catastrophe 

Just 13 out of 36 hospitals in the territory are "partially" functional, according to WHO, after unrelenting Israeli bombardment began in October.

When Israel withdrew its troops from Khan Younis in early April, after months of fierce battles created a humanitarian catastrophe, MSF returned to Nasser and resumed operations in mid-May, focusing on orthopaedic surgery and the burns unit.

In one bed lay a girl with a burned face, in another a silent boy with a bandaged leg watched over by a relative. A girl wearing a red dress cried as a doctor examined her.

The repeated evacuation or closure of hospitals because of fighting or Israeli leaflets ordering Gaza residents to leave the area "greatly handicap the delivery of medical care to the Palestinian population", said Aurelie Godard, who oversees MSF activities in Gaza.

Now MSF is preparing to reopen Nasser's maternity and neonatal intensive care units.

"Evacuating or reopening is difficult every time. Especially for the patients, because they have to know where to find us; they have to know what services and what care is available in what place," Godard said.

"It's difficult for us, because obviously there's all the equipment, the medicines, the machines... to transport, to repair sometimes," she added.

'Living in a desert' 

WHO said Friday it had received no medical equipment in Gaza since May 6, the eve of Israel's offensive on Rafah city in Gaza's far south which led to the closure of the main aid entry points into the territory.

Since then almost no aid has made it into Gaza, the UN and NGOs say.

The Israeli military cut off electricity to Gaza at the beginning of the war, triggered on October 7, and international organizations fear a total depletion of fuel to run generators.

More and more people are leaving Rafah, where the UN says Israel's offensive has forced around 800,000 people to flee, hoping to find refugee in Khan Younis.

Near Nasser hospital, plastic containers are piled up at water distribution points.

"People just appear to be alive on the outside," said Mohammed Baroud, who was displaced from Rafah to Khan Younis.

He said "everything is destroyed" in the area around Nasser Hospital.

"Water is not available. We search for even a few drops of water," he said, adding that to get that they have to come a long way.

"Water is very scarce," he said. "It's like living in a desert."

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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