Gaza's Al Nasser Hospital becomes site of mass graves as Israeli tanks besiege area

Injured people are trapped inside complex amid continued bombardment, health workers say

People bury Palestinians killed in an Israeli air strike at Al Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. Reuters
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Mass graves were being dug around Gaza’s Al Nasser medical complex on Monday as Israeli tanks advanced towards the hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, trapping thousands of Palestinians.

Health workers told The National they were overwhelmed by the number of patients and bodies and had few medical supplies left to treat those suffering.

“The hospital is full of martyrs, and they have started burying them in mass graves within the hospital,” said Ahmed El Madhoun, a resident of southern Gaza.

Al Nasser Hospital is one of the last medical centres in operation in Gaza, albeit under difficult conditions as Israeli forces continue to bombard the area.

“We are currently trapped inside the hospital and tanks are nearby. There are dozens of martyrs and injured in the streets. Ambulances cannot reach them,” Mr El Madhoun said.

During the past 24 hours, at least 50 people have died in Khan Younis and more than 100 were injured, Gaza's Health Ministry said.

Doctors at the hospital have refused to leave despite the danger from Israeli fire.

Israeli officials have accused Hamas fighters of operating from Al Nasser Hospital, which staff deny. Two thirds of Gaza's hospitals have ceased functioning after Israeli attacks and losing Al Nasser would curtail the limited trauma care still available.

“I will not leave the hospital and my patients,” Mannar Fayad, an anesthesia and resuscitation specialist at the hospital, told The National on Monday.

Ms Fayad said she was panicking as Israeli tanks moved closer to the hospital. “I'm thinking of our fate if the Israeli forces invade the hospital – are they going to arrest us, or kill us as they did in other hospitals,” she said.

Ahmed Al Moghrabi, the head of the Burns and Plastic Surgery department at Al Nasser, told The National the situation inside the hospital was becoming more challenging, with increasing pressure on health workers.

“Last night was particularly difficult due to heavy Israeli air strikes in the southern part of the hospital, many people started to flee,” he said.

“We are facing a significant challenge with the limited number of medical staff who have chosen to stay."

It comes as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said on Monday that Israeli forces were “besieging the ambulance centre [in Khan Younis] and targeting anyone attempting to move in the area”.

The PRCS said ambulances were unable to reach the injured in the city. Staff in Jerusalem were able to briefly establish contact with their Khan Younis team on Monday afternoon but remain “extremely concerned” as bombing and tanks move closer.

“Cellphone, landlines and Wi-Fi are all down. This is the 11th day of a complete blackout. The only means of communication is via VHS radio but this is not stable,” PRCS spokeswoman Nebal Farsakh told The National.

“We are extremely worried for the safety our our team at Al Amal and the headquarters. Everyone is trapped. No one is able to move.”

Ms Farsakh said staff and displaced people sheltering in the complex, numbering between 7,000 and 8,000, were unable to step outside without the risk of being shot.

“No one can move in or out, this includes ambulance teams. They are constantly getting calls from the wounded in Khan Younis, but the ambulances are trapped," she said. "They can hear constant bombardment close to area, but they can’t verify how far away it is from the hospital because they can’t stand even in front of the building."

Initial reports suggested at least 100 patients were being treated inside the hospital.

"The situation in the south is now impossible. People don’t know where to go. It’s impossible to move to Rafah or anywhere else," said Ms Farsakh.

The area is under “intense bombing”, she added. "Those displaced are in extreme panic and fear. They don’t have another direction to take. Our facility was the last resort for them," she said.

Ashraf Al Qudra, spokesman for the Health Ministry, also said Israeli forces were preventing the movement of ambulances to evacuate those killed and wounded in the west of the city.

“Israeli forces are committing horrific crimes in western Khan Younis. Dozens of martyrs and wounded are still in targeted areas and roads,” he said.

Freelance journalist Doaa Al Baz has stayed at the hospital because she has no where else to go.

“Last night was so horrible, the shelling didn’t stop and I just feel that I will leave my journalism duties and want to escape to safety,” Ms Al Baz told The National.

Most of the journalists staying in the medical complex have fled the area as the situation is getting very dangerous, she said.

“Those that have stayed are now surrounded and we can't leave,” Ms Al Baz said.

Updated: January 22, 2024, 5:06 PM