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Gaza: visiting doctors 'stunned' about situation of wounded palestinian children

Doctors and nurses in an operating theater   -  
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Abdel Kareem Hana/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.


It was the constant stream of wounded Palestinian children that most stunned the international team of doctors visiting the hospital in central Gaza, overwhelmed by casualties from Israel’s shelling and bombardment.

Tanya Haj-Hassan, a pediatric intensive care doctor from Jordan, described the cases she had seen in just the past 10 hours at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the town of Deir al-Balah.

Haj-Hassan was part of a seven-doctor team that has been working at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital since the middle of March, set up by the relief groups International Rescue Committee and Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Their two-week visit has given them a first-hand look at Gaza’s decimated health sector under the nearly six-month Israeli assault in the tiny territory.

Only around a dozen of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are even partially functioning.

The rest have gone completely out of commission as they ran out of fuel and medicine, were surrounded and raided by Israeli troops, or were damaged in fighting.

The remaining facilities, including al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospitals, have to take in the flood of patients even as they struggle with limited supplies and overwhelmed staff.

"People are tired. Our team has been doing this for five days, we’re exhausted. I can’t imagine what the Gaza team who has been here for 162 days, doing this 24/7 - 162 days without resources - is dealing with," she told the Associated Press.

A similar team went to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in January.

This time, because Israel strikes in the area were surging, it was too risky for the team to stay at a nearby guesthouse and instead they have stayed in the hospital itself, giving them a 24/7 look at the deterioration during their two-week visit, said Arvind Das, the IRC’s team leader for Gaza.

Mustafa Abu Qassim, a nurse from the Specialty Hospital in Jordan who is on the visiting team, was shocked by the crowded hallways.

“Patients are lying in the corridors. When we go looking, we don't find rooms for the patients.,” he said.

“They’re all in the corridors, either on mattresses or blankets on the floor, or a bed without basic components. So they are struggling a lot,” he added.

al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital normally has a capacity of around 160 beds, according to the World Health Organization, but now it is struggling with some 800 patients, according to staff.

Normally, it has around 120 staff, but many of those are no longer able to come to work – leaving a skeleton crew of doctors and nurses juggling the massive load.

"Most of them have lost their children, their wives, or their parents," said Abu Qassim about the staff that operate in the health facility.

Thousands of people driven from their homes by the Israeli military offensive are also living in the hospital grounds, hoping it will be safe.

The staff also face the same daily struggle others in Gaza have in finding food for their families and trying to ensure some safety for them.

Das says the doctors have been eating minimally, living on canned food. Many bring their children with them to the hospital to keep them close, Abu Qassim said.

Israel’s bombardment and offensive in Gaza have killed some 32,000 Palestinians and wounded nearly 75,000 more in the territory of 2.3 million people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Israel’s offensive was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which militants killed around 1,200 people and abducted 250 hostages, around 100 of whom remain in captivity.

Since the start of the assault, Israel has cut off entry of food, fuel and medical supplies into Gaza except for a trickle of aid crossing the border at two crossings in the south.

The international community has called for Israel to let in more.

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