Abud Wael Al Asram, 26 years old, is studying business and economics and works as a gas station attendant at the gas station in front of Shifa Hospital to pay for college. Until a few weeks ago, he was refueling the hospital’s ambulances. Over the years he has become close to the doctors and nurses and has made friends with the Italian volunteer doctors on periodic missions at Shifa. For Abud, it was an automatic decision to join the Civil Defense rescuers who have been searching for survivors in the rubble for more than a month. But three days ago, he went from being a volunteer to being an injured person himself.
He was hit in the limbs by shrapnel from missile explosions. Abud is in grave danger, we read in an appeal by Dr. Dario Fichera, who has been a volunteer in Gaza many times. He needs emergency surgery because he risks infection and sepsis. “He needs two urgent surgeries to remove shrapnel,” Fichera told us on Monday, “but it’s not possible to perform them. The collapsed health system in Gaza makes these surgeries no longer possible, due to lack of drugs, infrastructure, devices, sanitation. We are asking the Italian authorities to take action to have Abud transferred somewhere where he can have surgery.”
The young Palestinian could die from gangrene, and Fichera and his other Italian friends are hoping that international humanitarian pressure might save him. But it is a desperate situation. So many other patients are in the same situation as him, ill and seriously wounded by the air raids. For them, the shutdown of Shifa and all hospitals in Gaza City and the north of the Strip often means a death sentence. Deaths have already occurred, the Gaza Health Ministry reported on Monday: seven premature infants died after Shifa pediatricians had to take them out of incubators because of the lack of electricity. Twenty-seven critically ill patients who were on respirators also died, according to the Gaza health authorities.
The situation at Gaza’s largest hospital is catastrophic, deemed by Israel to be a front for a large Hamas underground base that must be conquered and destroyed, which is why the Israeli army has called for its immediate evacuation. “We don’t have electricity. There’s no water in the hospital. There’s no food. People will die in a few hours without functioning ventilators,” reported an MSF doctor on Monday, whose identity the NGO did not disclose. “In front of the main gate, there are many bodies,” he continued. “There are also injured patients; we can’t bring them inside. When we sent an ambulance to bring the patients—a few meters away—and they attacked the ambulance.”
“There’s also a sniper who attacked patients, they have gunshot wounds. We operated on three of them,” the MSF doctor added. “The situation is very bad, it is inhuman.” He said that the doctors agreed to leave the hospital “only if patients are evacuated first. We don’t want to leave our patients. There are 600 inpatients, 37 babies, someone who needs an ICU. We can’t leave them.”
At Shifa there are also 100 dead bodies that are decomposing and must be buried immediately because they can no longer be safely stored due to the lack of electricity. The Health Ministry explained that medical waste and special waste that needs to be disposed of is also a serious problem, as this is now impossible with the Israeli armored units that arrived close to the hospital after the battle that took place in the nearby Shate refugee camp. There is a risk of outbreaks among patients, medical staff and the 1,500 or so displaced people who remain in the hospital despite the risk of an Israeli attack, which is something even Joe Biden doesn’t want to see happen.
Meanwhile, the Red Crescent is no longer able to respond to calls for help from areas north of Gaza because ambulances cannot reach that devastated area. It has raised the alarm about conditions in Al Quds hospital on the outskirts of Gaza City, which are similar to those at Shifa. On Monday, Israeli military commanders were reporting to the media that they had killed “21 terrorists” after someone allegedly fired at military personnel near the entrance to Al Quds, which they said proves the presence of Hamas fighters in the hospital building. The Red Crescent denies this.
The list of dead Palestinians is constantly growing: it now stands at 11,240. These include Hamas militants, but most of that number consists of innocent civilians, including thousands of women and children (and over 40 reporters). By contrast, 44 Israeli soldiers have died since the beginning of the Israeli invasion of the northern Strip. Firefights are now concentrated in Gaza City, but an air strike reportedly killed 30 residents of the Jabaliya refugee camp, the scene of repeated massacres of civilians. On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke of full victory over Hamas, which he claimed has lost control of Gaza and its fighters are fleeing to the south.
However, despite Gallant’s statements, the Islamist movement is still capable of firing rockets. It did so again on Monday, targeting central Israel as well. A photo of Golani Brigade soldiers, sporting Israeli flags, occupying the desks of the leadership of the Palestinian Legislative Council in downtown Gaza City has made the media rounds. At the same time, international pressure on Israel is growing.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen estimates the time the army still has available to conclude its operations before it will be forced to accept a general cease-fire as 2-3 weeks. For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu is talking about a “war to the end” and no ceasefire unless the 240 or so Israeli and foreign hostages in the hands of Hamas are freed. As rumors would have it, the negotiations for the early release of dozens of hostages have been almost finalized, apparently in exchange for brief humanitarian pauses in the fighting and the release of Palestinian women and minors held in Israel. On Monday night, Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, released a video showing the lifeless body of an Israeli female soldier who was being hostage, who they claim died as a result of Israeli bombing.