‘All of them had died': Gaza doctor tells of unbearable loss in Israeli air strike

Residents desperately search for survivors amid air strikes that have killed entire families

Palestinian youth stand on a heart-shaped installation next to the rubble of a building following an Israeli airstrike on Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip,on Sunday. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

A doctor in Gaza searched for hours, along with dozens of others, hoping to find his cousin’s family beneath the rubble of a building that was demolished in an Israeli air strike.

After hours of heaving chunks of cement, bricks and twisted metal to search for survivors, all 13 members of the family were found dead under the debris.

“We tried to rescue without any tools, using our hands. We tried for hours, and finally we found that all of them had died,” Dr Mohamed Abu Shawish told The National.

Everyone died, my cousin, his wife, sons, daughters, older parents, everyone
Dr Mohamed Abu Shawish, a doctor in Gaza

The clinical psychologist had received a frantic call for help from his cousin, who lives a few blocks away from Dr Shawish in central Gaza.

“But there is no capacity to rescue people. Everyone died, my cousin, his wife, sons, daughters, older parents, everyone,” he said.

“When we tried to call my cousin, he answered from under the rubble for two minutes and then we lost the connection. That was it, that was the end.”

The next morning after consoling heart-broken relatives, the physician was back at work treating the injured at the Al Aqsa hospital in central Gaza.

Dr Shawish said most patients he treated on Sunday had been queuing in long lines for bread at a bakery near the hospital when an explosion struck nearby.

“There have been five or six attacks just from this morning,” he said.

“The Israeli government said to people, go to the south, so people came here from the north.

“It is mainly children and women who were out to get food or bread from the bakery – these are the people injured in the bombing.”

'The wounded are everywhere'

Dr Shawish described how medics were being forced to select patients to administer anaesthesia as medical and fuel supplies run critically low.

“We have to choose who we can give anaesthesia to. We only keep it for urgent, life-saving surgery,” Dr Shawish said.

“The wounded are everywhere, they are on the floor, on the stairs, in the garden.

“It cannot be imagined how doctors are working to treat the wounded.”

Hospitals in Gaza are overflowing with people seeking refuge from the bombings and families crowded into the buildings and compounds.

On the 16th day of the Israel-Gaza war, the death toll in the besieged Palestinian enclave has risen to more than 4,650, with more than 14,240 people wounded.

More than 200 people were killed in the last 24 hours, Gaza’s health ministry said, with women, children and the elderly making up most of the victims.

Israel declared war on October 7, vowing to obliterate Hamas after the militant group attacked Israeli towns near the Gaza border, killing 1,400 people and taking about 200 hostages.

The doctor appealed for an end to the bombing.

“I need people from all over the world to put pressure on their governments to stop this genocide,” Dr Shawish said.

“Every day we are losing hundreds. When will this end?”

20 slices of bread after three hours

Lubna, a mother of four, said there was no respite for residents fleeing Israeli air strikes.

“My friend lost many family members who were running from the north, they were on the road when they died,” said Lubna, who declined to give her full name.

Israel had warned residents of northern Gaza to evacuate to the south, but buildings in southern areas have also been hit by air strikes.

Lubna's family moved from the eastern edge of Khan Younis city to the central area and have taken shelter in a relative’s house.

With about 14 people sharing a room without electricity and water, the situation has reached breaking point.

“We stand in line to buy bread for three hours and we get 20 slices of bread for 14 people, that is all,” she said.

“We don’t go to the bathroom often because there is no water.”

The family is unable to find medicine needed by her in-laws, who are in their late 80s and suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.

“We are normal people with lives, dreams and kids,” she said.

“We had a beautiful house, good jobs. We want to go back to our normal lives.”

Updated: October 23, 2023, 7:26 AM