Most US doctors stuck in Gaza hospital have left, White House says

International volunteers holed up in European Hospital after Israeli bombardment increased around Rafah

The emergency area of the European Hospital in southern Gaza. AFP
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The White House on Friday said that 17 American doctors have safely exited Gaza after they made public pleas for assistance to leave a struggling hospital in the southern part of the enclave, near where Israel is carrying out a long-threatened military operation in Rafah.

“There were 20 American doctors, 17 are out now,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

He said the 17 had wanted to leave, though he said he could not speak for the other three.

The health professionals were part of volunteer teams of medical workers from the US, Britain, Australia, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and other countries working to provide services to people in Gaza, the Associated Press reported.

But they were caught up in Israel's military operations in Rafah.

Israel claims there are Hamas battalions entrenched in the southern Gaza city.

More than a million civilians are sheltering in Rafah after being displaced from other parts of Gaza due to Israel's war with Hamas following the October 7 attacks.

The UN says more than 600,000 people have fled Rafah after Israel issued evacuation orders and bombardments increased. Israel has also taken control of the Gaza side of the city's border crossing with Egypt.

One team under US-based organisation Fajr Scientific reported that bombs had landed the house they were staying in, despite it being clearly marked as a shelter for humanitarian aid workers.

An Indian UN worker was also killed in the vicinity.

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They fled for safety to Gaza European Hospital, the largest operating hospital in southern Gaza, right outside Rafah.

People connected to the Fajr Scientific group and an American doctor, Monica Johnson, told The Intercept that the hospital is understaffed and lacks supplies.

Ms Johnson told the US outlet that medical staff are experiencing dehydration, along with other health complications, while still caring for patients.

International medical workers who were part of the mission told AP and The Intercept that they had concerns about whether new volunteers would replace them if and when they chose to leave.

Palestinian doctors and nurses have faced risks on the job, in addition to low supplies and dwindling staff.

The health system in Gaza is near total collapse and even more strain is expected, with Israel appearing to be preparing for a full invasion of Rafah.

Updated: May 17, 2024, 10:22 PM