Palestinian public-health authorities say doctors are struggling to treat hundreds of people injured in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza as medical supplies run short in hospitals on the verge of collapse.
Public hospitals have canceled nonemergency surgeries and transferred Covid-19 patients to private clinics to free up resources to treat trauma cases. Even so, at Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza, patients often endure long waits for treatment or must share scarce beds, doctors said.
“We can’t keep up,” said Mohamed Ziara, an emergency room doctor and surgeon at Al-Shifa. Dr. Ziara said that in the crush of critically wounded people, surgeons sometimes must decide to amputate an injured limb rather than attempt the time-consuming process of saving it.
At least 212 people have been killed and more than 1,400 wounded by airstrikes and shelling since the recent fighting began between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, health officials in Gaza say. Israeli officials say the country’s armed forces are focused on targeted killings of Hamas leaders and try to avoid civilian casualties, including calling off attacks if the military thinks civilians could be at risk.
Hamas says a limited number of its operatives were killed, and health officials say civilians have borne the brunt of the onslaught.
In Israel, 12 people, including one child, have been killed, mostly from rockets and antitank missiles launched by Hamas. The group has fired more than 3,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities but most have been intercepted by Israel’s missile-defense system, according to the Israeli military.
Hospitals in Gaza say they are facing acute shortages of everything from beds to blood bags, to medicine and medical supplies. The ministry of health has been calling on volunteers to donate blood.
“If the number of casualties continue at the same rate that we have seen, there will be a collapse of the health system in Gaza,” said Dr. Midhat Abbas, an official with the health ministry. “It’s very fragile.”
The clashes are expected to worsen the Covid-19 situation. New cases had begun to go down in Gaza after a weekslong lockdown, which was lifted days before fighting erupted.
On Monday, Gaza’s health ministry suspended all Covid-19 testing and vaccinations after its central laboratory was damaged by an airstrike. The ministry warned that overcrowded shelters, where tens of thousands have fled to escape the bombardment, “are now a dangerous environment for the rapid spread of Covid-19.”
One of those killed amid the fighting was Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf, an internal medicine doctor who was overseeing the Covid-19 response at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa. He had ended a shift after midnight Sunday and gone home shortly before an airstrike destroyed two residential buildings and killed dozens of civilians, according to fellow doctors and Amnesty International.
Dr. Ziara, the emergency room doctor at Al-Shifa, said one of the Covid-19 patients transferred from Al-Shifa was the mother of one of his colleagues at the hospital. She had been in the Covid-19 intensive-care ward for a month and doctors believed she was on her way to making a full recovery. She was still in need of a ventilator and en route to the other hospital when there was an interruption of her oxygen flow and she died, Dr. Ziara said.
Emptying most of the hospital’s approximately 114 beds hasn’t been enough to keep up with the crush of victims when the bombardment intensifies, he said.
Besides a shortage of beds and medical staff, hospitals are facing a lack of supplies they need to treat patients.
Gaza is a densely populated strip of land that is under semi-permanent blockade, with Israel tightly controlling most of the goods and aid permitted to come in. The border crossing used to bring in humanitarian aid and personnel had been closed by Israel since May 10, according to the United Nations.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization was expecting to send in a convoy of medical supplies, in addition to aid from other U.N. agencies, said Richard Peeperkorn, head of the WHO office in occupied Palestinian territory.
While aid trucks were readying to go through the Erez Crossing into Gaza, a mortar bomb struck the area and the crossing was immediately closed, preventing most of the aid from entering Gaza, according to Israeli officials. Israel blamed Hamas for the attack.
“We are trying to push from all sides because this is a top urgency to get these supplies in and patients out of Gaza,” Dr. Peeperkorn said.
Because of the border closure, the WHO purchased $200,000 worth of medical supplies from private suppliers inside Gaza and distributed it, he said.
On Monday, Egypt sent 65 tons of medical equipment through the Rafah border crossing, including surgical tools, burn treatments, ventilators and anesthetics. It also allowed three injured people to cross into Egypt for treatment, including a 5-year-old boy with shrapnel wounds.
More were expected to come but ambulances are facing difficulties transporting victims from Gaza City because of the airstrikes and road destruction, according to people familiar with the situation.
At the entrance of Al-Shifa hospital, Iman Taha had been waiting for days for any news about the condition of two family members who were injured when a roof caved in on them. The 38-year-old and her family fled days earlier when intense airstrikes began on the northern border town of Beit Hanoun.
She didn’t know their conditions, only that they were being treated in the ICU. Families are barred from going inside due to Covid restrictions—one of the few pandemic precautions still in place in Gaza.
“We haven’t found anywhere else to go, we’re just sitting here at the hospital,” Ms. Taha said.
Others came to stay around the hospital for safety, believing that a medical facility was the least likely to be attacked by Israel. But not all have been spared.
On Sunday ,airstrikes damaged a trauma and burn-care clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, forcing it to close. Airstrikes have also hit roads around hospitals, making it harder for ambulances to reach the hospitals, according to several doctors and the group.
“I wish we were just dealing with corona,” Ms. Taha said. “It’s easier than war.”
When the conflict began, the WHO said Gaza was on the tail end of a third wave. Now with testing suspended, it is unclear how bad infection rates might be.
The fighting has displaced at least 58,000 people from their homes, including 42,000 seeking shelter in 50 U.N.-run schools across Gaza. At the overcrowded schools there is no room for social distancing and hundreds of people share a handful of bathrooms.
“People are running from war and running towards corona in the schools, because you cannot control any [prevention] measures in those schools,” said Dr. Abbas.
Despite the public-health risk, Covid-19 is no longer a main concern.
“When this war came, we forgot corona,” he said. “Corona gives you days and then maybe you live or maybe you die. But now [Israel] will kill an entire building at once.”
—Anas Baba in Gaza City and Amira El-Fekki in Cairo contributed to this article.
Write to Raja Abdulrahim at [email protected]
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