Medical supplies at seven major hospitals in the Gaza Strip have run out, a World Health Organization spokesperson said, as they scramble to find ways to bring essential supplies into Gaza through Israel’s total blockade.
In a joint media briefing hosted by the United Nations Tuesday, WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević said in addition to supplies running out, there have been 13 Israeli airstrikes on health-care sites in Gaza since hostilities began after Hamas militants launched a stunning attack on Israel Saturday.
“This resulted in six health workers being killed, four health workers being injured, nine ambulances affected, and eight health facilities affected,” Jašarević said, referring to updates as of Monday. “With the number of casualties currently coming in … hospitals are now running beyond their capacity.”
In Israel, he said, officials have reported that one paramedic has been killed and a hospital in Ashkelon was attacked by armed Palestinian groups.
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Léo Cans, the head of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) in the Palestinian territory, said in a statement on Tuesday that constant bombardment of the Gaza Strip and the fact that medical establishments have not been spared has led to an untenable situation in the region.
“One of the hospitals we support was hit by an airstrike and damaged,” Cans wrote. “Another airstrike destroyed an ambulance carrying the wounded, right in front of the hospital where we work. The MSF team, who were operating on a patient, had to leave the hospital in a hurry.”
He said MSF is donating medical supplies while they last. Cans said cutting off water, electricity and fuel supplies is “unacceptable, as it punishes the entire population and deprives them of their basic needs.”
In a separate statement, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said four paramedics with the group Palestine Red Crescent and an ambulance driver in Israel were killed. It is unclear whether these casualties overlap with WHO and MSF reports.
As Israel forms a war cabinet in preparation for a potential ground offensive, the Red Cross has said both Israel and Hamas must respect international humanitarian law.
“Civilians, health-care workers, health facilities and civilian infrastructure must be respected and protected at all times. They are not a target,” read the Red Cross statement.
Israel Defence Forces has said it does everything possible to limit civilian casualties in Gaza, alerting those in the areas designated for attack to leave, but it also says that Hamas operates from within civilian areas.
The only access in or out of the Gaza Strip — home to two million people who have lived under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007 — is through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which remains closed after recent Israeli bombardments.
The full siege of Gaza, according to a spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office who spoke at the UN briefing, “endangers the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival” and “is prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
UN relief workers killed
Dr. Hammam Alloh, an internal medicine physician in Gaza City, has been trying to balance time with his patients and spending time with his family — including his wife, three young children and elderly parents — against a backdrop of airstrikes and a constant shortages of essential supplies.
“I keep receiving Whatsapp messages and calls from my patients; they really want me by their side [but] I can’t go to the hospital everyday because I need to spend as much [time] as possible with my kids and family,” Alloh told CBC.
Patients with chronic illnesses, patients who have had or need to have organ transplants and patients navigating new cancer diagnoses, are among those left without medication as space in hospitals and clinics is being cleared for the wounded, he said.
Ayman Al-Djaroucha, MSF deputy project co-ordinator in Gaza, said in a social media post Wednesday that, “All of the patients we received at our clinic in Gaza City were children between 10 and 14.”
Al-Djaroucha said the majority of the injured in Gaza are women and children because they are most often in the buildings destroyed in airstrikes.
Gaza’s health ministry said at least 1,100 people had been killed and over 5,330 injured in the crowded coastal enclave since Saturday. Israel’s death toll has risen to 1,200 with more than 2,700 wounded, its military said.
The death toll in Gaza also includes 11 UN relief workers, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which said two of the school buildings where civilians were sheltering have been hit by Israeli airstrikes.
“[The deaths] included five teachers at UNRWA schools, one gynecologist, one engineer, one psychological counselor and three support staff,” read the group’s statement. “Some were killed in their homes with their families.”
At the same time, Alloh said the only power plant in the Gaza strip has run out of fuel and stopped generating electricity — a report Gaza officials confirmed to CNN — meaning hospitals as well as households must rely on private generators while fuel for them lasts.
WHO looks to Egypt to get medical supplies to Gaza
“Hospitals cannot run without fuel, without electricity,” WHO’s Jašarević said. “WHO is reprogramming $1 million USD to procure more urgently needed medical supplies from the local market.”
He noted that WHO is also in talks with Egypt and “other partners” to find ways to get medical supplies into Gaza, but said “it’s too soon to say how exactly this will happen.”
In the meantime, Alloh — who says he has been struggling to find a steady supply of basics like milk and diapers for his four-month old baby — said Palestinians are surviving solely on hope.
“This is not the first war, although [it is] the worst war to ever go through,” he said. “From previous experiences we have learned to manage things … even if we come up with ideas to solve problems, these ideas will not solve these issues for more than a few days.”