Gaza's hospitals warn of catastrophe as fuel runs out and borders remain shut

More than 350,000 wounded and sick Gazans in dire need of medical attention cannot receive care, hospital director says

A woman and child at a shelter in Rafah, southern Gaza, where the European Hospital is shutting down services as fuel supplies dwindle. Reuters
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Gaza's few remaining hospitals have warned they will go out of service unless they receive urgently needed fuel as Israel maintains its blockade of the strip.

Israel's closure of the Rafah border crossing has cut off Gazans from food, fuel and aid while also preventing injured and sick Gazans in dire need of medical assistance from receiving treatment abroad.

“The movement of patients and injured individuals seeking treatment is hindered, and they face the risk of death if they cannot leave Gaza for medical care,” said Ismael Thawabta, the director of the government media office in Gaza.

The shortages came as Palestinians mark Nakba Day on Wednesday - reflecting on the catastrophe in 1948 when they were forced from their homes and land by Israeli settlers.

Most of Gaza's 36 hospitals have been destroyed or are no longer functioning after more than seven months of war in which over 35,100 Palestinians have been killed.

The remaining hospitals are barely functioning and are in urgent need of supplies.

The European Hospital in Rafah announced on Tuesday morning that will go out of service soon if it does not receive fuel.

“Due to the fuel shortage, we regret to inform you that the main generators will stop at 10am,” a statement released by the hospital's administration said.

“We will switch to the lower-capacity generator, meaning that more than 70 per cent of the European Hospital's loads will be disconnected, and entire departments will be affected by the total shutdown.”

Makeshift field hospitals have been set up in the enclave since the outbreak of the war, but they are struggling to cope as Israel expands its military operations in both southern and northern Gaza while preventing aid from entering the enclave.

“The closure of borders leads to a catastrophe affecting 350,000 patients suffering from chronic diseases who require medication and treatment,” Mr Thawabta added.

Last week, medics, patients and displaced people were told to leave Abu Yousef Al Najjar hospital in Rafah.

Hospital director Marwan Al Hams said the facility had been placed in the “red zone” and that staff were threatened with death if they did not comply with Israel's orders to evacuate.

“The Israeli occupation army directly targets hospitals in Rafah, and Israeli forces target anyone moving in the vicinity of the hospital,” Dr Hams said.

The Israeli army issued the first evacuation order for eastern parts of the city a week ago, affecting more than 100,000 people. It later expanded that order to include western parts of the city.

The Kuwaiti Hospital has been ordered to evacuate, Medical Aid for Palestinians confirmed on Monday, adding that staff and patients have been told to move to northern Rafah and central Gaza.

The army has instructed displaced civilians to leave for Al Mawasi, a narrow coastal strip near Khan Younis, which aid officials say is unable to host fleeing Palestinians - especially those in need of medical treatment.

Kiryn Lannying, team lead for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in the occupied Palestinian Territories, said there is “no space” to accommodate more people fleeing to Al Mawasi, with makeshift shelters spilling onto the streets and lining the beach.

“The health system has been completely decimated, so any facilities that will need to shut down or begin evacuation due to insecurity in the area reduces access and service provision to a population that really needs those services. We can't afford to have any facilities shut down," she told The National.

During a visit to the area last week, Ms Lanning said she had not seen any new tents or aid in Al Mawasi, where the Israeli army said it had directed increased humanitarian aid and established field hospitals before sending evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of civilians in Rafah.

“Tents structures have been erected in Khan Younis. So it does seem that there are some sort of plans for shelter arrangements in that area. Although to my knowledge, there's no humanitarian assistance being provided in those sites,” she added.

At least four air strikes hit the area during her visit, she added, despite its designation as a "safe zone" by the Israeli army.

In Rafah, a field hospital has been opened by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and 11 Red Cross organisations to “help address the overwhelming medical needs” in the overcrowded city.

The 60-bed hospital will provide emergency surgical, obstetric, gynaecological, maternity and paediatric care and an outpatient department, the ICRC said in a statement.

The ICRC warned that it has seen a rise in communicable diseases “which could lead to potential outbreaks”, as well as complications from treatable illnesses.

Amputations are common, as well as acute respiratory infection, gastrointestinal illness and skin diseases which are spreading rapidly through displaced communities due to a lack of clean water, sanitation and access to food,” the ICRC said.

Other chronic illnesses are also not being treated as patients with life-threatening conditions are being prioritised.

“The ICRC reiterates its call for the protection of medical facilities under international humanitarian law. No patient should be killed while lying in a hospital bed. No doctors, nurses, or any medical professionals should ever die while working to save lives,” the organisation said.

Updated: May 15, 2024, 4:50 AM