Gaza area 'smells of blood' after deadly hospital blast

More than 500 Palestinians were killed as they took shelter at Al Ahli Baptist Hospital

People gather by destroyed vehicles at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza on Wednesday, after it was hit by bombs overnight.  AFP
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The ceiling collapsed on Dr Fadel Naeem, head of orthopaedics, while he was operating on a patient as Al Ahli Arab Hospital was struck by bombs late on Tuesday.

The assault on Gaza's 130-year-old hospital has sent shock waves around the world after more than 500 people were killed within seconds.

“We heard a huge blast. For a moment, we thought a building close to the hospital was hit,” Dr Naeem told The National.

“Suddenly, the ceiling collapsed on us and we suffered injuries.”

Doctors and health workers ran outside and were faced “with an onslaught of shocking scenes of severed limbs and dead bodies everywhere”, he said.

People were screaming, Dr Naeem added, and “people were dying in our arms as we tried to save them”.

Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, said the blast was a result of an Israeli air strike.

Israel has denied responsibility for the attack and said it was a rocket misfired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group based in Gaza.

Dr Naeem had to leave behind four victims that he “deemed beyond saving” so as to assist others that may have a fighting chance.

“There are no words to describe what we saw, the pile of dead bodies in the hospital. I am speechless,” he said.

The targeting of Al Ahli Arab Hospital stoked anger across the international community over the bloodshed in Gaza, which is home to 2.2 million people.

The Palestinian territory has been under siege by Israel for more than a week, after surprise attacks carried out by Hamas on Israel on October 7.

“We are in a state of belief and disbelief,” at the air strike, Rev Fadi Diab, Deputy Chairman of the hospital's Board told The National from Ramallah.

“There were many families there, seeking refuge in the hospital's halls and courtyard.

“People have always, throughout history, sought refuge in places like this, thinking that they are safe. Even the Episcopal church was slightly damaged by shrapnel,” he said.

The area smelt of blood after the blast, witnesses who were camping near the hospital said.

“We saw women, children, elderly all dead. We were about 10m away from the blast,” said one witness who wanted to remain anonymous.

“We were shocked to see the horror. We saw hands, heads, limbs everywhere.”

The World Health Organisation had previously said health centres in northern Gaza were operating far beyond their capacity, with tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians sheltering inside.

Some people had gathered around and inside Al Ahli Arab Hospital to shelter from the air strikes conducted by Israel.

“We had sought refuge in a place we thought was safe and now we have nowhere to go but to ask for God's mercy. There is nowhere safe in Gaza,” said a witness.

The UAE, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and several Arab states have condemned the Israeli strike.

Turkey announced three days of mourning and the Arab League has placed its flags at half-mast.

Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum said the hospital will remain open despite damage to its diagnostic centre and cancer department.

“As churches, we are determined to keep our institutions open and our places of worship open as a sanctuary, especially for women and children in Gaza city,” he said.

About 5,000 people had sought shelter within the hospital compound after more than a million Palestinians were told to leave northern Gaza on Saturday, he said, although the number of refugees at the hospital was changing “day by day.”

“The hospital has been there since 1882 and has been serving all the people in Gaza for so many years. It is a neutral hospital, it's a sanctuary for people because it doesn’t belong to any establishment,” he said.

“Every time there is a strike nearby, people flee to the hospital because it is a sanctuary for them.”

The hospital received a warning of an impending strike an hour before it took place, Waleed Siam, Palestine’s envoy to Tokyo told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Wednesday.

However, the church said it received three evacuation warnings – on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – and said 15 other hospitals had been warned to evacuate.

It did not receive one on Tuesday, said Archbishop Naoum.

Updated: October 18, 2023, 3:50 PM