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Hospitals in Gaza are having to keep dead bodies in refrigerators meant for storing food, as medical supplies run out in a collapsing, overstretched infrastructure that can remain standing for only “hours” unless aid is brought into the strip, health officials have warned.
The death toll in Gaza has exceeded 2,300 people, half of whom, authorities say, are women and children. More than 10,000 people have been injured so far, Palestinian Health Ministry has said.
Now, with all its entry and exit points sealed off, Gaza is running out of fuel to support power generators and water sanitation facilities, running the risk of untreated sewage spilling over on to the streets or into the sea causing the spread of waterborne diseases.
“Without fuel, electricity or medical supplies, we are living in a triangle of execution,” health spokesman Dr Ashraf Al Qudra told The National by phone from Gaza.
Dr Al Qudra said hospitals have resorted to extreme measures to cope with the overwhelming number of casualties.
Gaza's Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital has had to borrow fridges from local shops to store bodies, he said.
“The piling-up of bodies is becoming a public health hazard and since the cemeteries aren’t even safe from bombardment, some hospitals have had to borrow fridges from nearby stores so they can keep the corpses while they await burial," he said.
“Other hospitals have resorted to setting up tents where bodies are being kept before mass burial.”
Hospitals are now overflowing with patients and people injured, he said.
“There is not a single empty bed in intensive care units or in emergency wards that can receive more people. Patients and the injured, people in need of urgent medical attention, are sat on the floors of hospitals, awaiting treatment, while tens of people line up outside operating rooms waiting for their turn.”
Yasser Khattab, who supervises the cleaning of corpses at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, said: "We had to get ice cream trucks to accommodate the corpses. It's a flood of corpses.
"The fridges we have can store 30 [bodies] per day and we're getting 60 to 70 per day. The bodies arrive in bits and pieces, without limbs or heads, shredded. Things we've never seen before."
Dr Al Qudra also said Israeli authorities have been calling hospitals chiefs across Gaza to ask them to evacuate patients.
“We do not respond to these threats,” he said.
“First, because it’s against international humanitarian law, and secondly, we don’t even have the ability to transport these patients because the hospitals in the south are also at full capacity. Additionally, there are patients and babies in intensive care units that simply cannot be moved. So what they’re asking for is a fantasy.
“If they want to kill our patients, they will have to kill us too.”
“At least 47 families have been completely wiped out,” he said, as dozens of Gazans seek refuge in one small room or home.
English teacher Alaa, 31, fled her home in northern Gaza to Deir Albalah in the centre of the strip with her three-month-old boy and two-year-old twins.
"We have now moved to an 80 square metre apartment in Deir Albalah in a building where my in-laws live," she told The National.
"We are here together with my neighbour’s family who spent last night at Alshifa Hospital hoping it would be safer for her and her family. They are 10 people. Also here are my parents, my five-month pregnant sister and her family. We are all 21 people using a very old, small bathroom and a very small kitchen with minimal supplies. I miss my clean bathroom."
Long queues at border crossing
At least 1,000 tonnes of aid has been piling up at the main airport of Egypt's North Sinai city of Al Arish and long queues of lorries carrying humanitarian aid line up as Egypt awaits the "necessary authorisation" to open its Rafah border crossing into Gaza.
In an interview with CNN that aired on Sunday, Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the crossing had not been closed from the Egyptian side, contrary to media reports. He did not elaborate on from whom Egypt is waiting for the "authorisation".
"Rafah crossing, officially, is open, has been open all along," Mr Shoukry said. "The problem was that the roads have been subject to aerial bombardment. On the Gazan side, the roads are not in a state that can receive the transit of vehicles."
More than 600 US citizens trapped inside Gaza were instructed by the State Department to make their way out to the Rafah crossing on Saturday.
"Also those operating the Gazan side deem it necessary that if third nationals come out then humanitarian aid should be allowed in," Mr Shoukry said, adding that Canadians, Dutch and Austrians were among the foreign citizens stranded in Gaza.
- With reporting by Anjana Sankar and Kamal Tabikha