What doctors volunteering in Gaza’s stricken hospitals witnessed under Israeli siege

Special What doctors volunteering in Gaza’s stricken hospitals witnessed under Israeli siege
At a news conference at the UN HQ in New York City last week, four doctors, who worked with teams in Gaza to support its healthcare system, described witnessing ‘appalling atrocities.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 26 March 2024
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What doctors volunteering in Gaza’s stricken hospitals witnessed under Israeli siege

What doctors volunteering in Gaza’s stricken hospitals witnessed under Israeli siege
  • During visits to UN and Washington, medics described “appalling atrocities” committed against the enclave
  • Doctors urged the international community to press for an immediate ceasefire and to allow aid into Gaza

NEW YORK CITY: Four doctors from the US, UK and France, who have been working with teams in Gaza to support its healthcare system, have described witnessing “appalling atrocities” under Israel’s military offensive.

The four specialists told an event at the UN headquarters this week that doctors in the enclave are faced with “horrific decisions” almost every day as a result of the war.

Nick Maynard, a cancer surgeon from the UK city of Oxford, has for the best part of the past 15 years been traveling to the Gaza Strip to teach, carry out surgeries, and help develop local healthcare capacity.

Because of his long association with Gaza, Maynard thought he was prepared for what awaited him when he again set foot in the Palestinian territory last December as part of the first UK emergency medical team to arrive since the outbreak of war in October.




According to the World Health Organization, there have been 164 attacks on healthcare infrastructure in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7. (AFP)

However, what he encountered during his two weeks at Al-Aqsa Hospital were “the most appalling atrocities,” he said. “I saw things that I never would have expected to have seen in any healthcare setting.”

The Israeli government says its military does not target civilians or hospitals, and blames Hamas for conducting military operations and launching rockets from crowded residential areas. Maynard rejects this claim.

Any medic who has worked in Gaza in recent months can dispel “with absolute certainty” the notion that Israel is conducting targeted bombing of Hamas militants and is protecting civilians,” he said.

“There is mass, indiscriminate bombing, killing many, many thousands of civilians, and a very clear targeting of healthcare facilities and workers, and deliberately destroying the infrastructure of all the hospitals to make it almost impossible to provide anything resembling normal healthcare to the population of Gaza.”

In fact, Maynard said Israel’s actions resemble the dictionary definition of genocide — designed to drive the Palestinian people out of Gaza.

“I spent some time looking at the definition of genocide in a variety of dictionaries,” he said. “And what is going on in Gaza fulfills every single definition of genocide that I have read.

“To those of us who’ve been on the ground there, and indeed, more importantly, all the Gazans I’ve spoken to, say the endgame of the Israeli government is to force them out completely from Gaza, to eradicate them from that land.”

Maynard was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, where he was among a delegation of doctors meeting with UN representatives, who later met with Biden administration officials and members of Congress in Washington on Friday.

Their goal is to “instill a sense of urgency,” make sure US decision-makers and the international community “know what we know,” and hammer home that “the only way to prevent that ongoing humanitarian catastrophe is an immediate and permanent ceasefire.”

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 164 attacks on healthcare infrastructure in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, when the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel triggered Israel’s retaliation against the group’s Gaza stronghold.




More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began. (AFP)

The UN agency says more than 400 medical workers have been killed since the conflict began. Before the war there were 6,000 beds at 39 hospitals in Gaza. Now roughly 295 hospital beds remain.

Israel has accused Hamas of building a vast tunnel network under Gaza’s hospitals, which it claims contain command centers, weapons caches, and places for holding Israeli hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack.

“I’ve paid many visits to Al-Shifa Hospital and a lot of the other hospitals as well and I’ve never, in any service, any time during my visits, seen any evidence of military activity of any Hamas militants in any of the hospitals,” said Maynard.

“The Israelis have provided no credible evidence whatsoever to support those claims.”

Also among the doctors’ delegation was Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American doctor who is co-founder and president of MedGlobal, an NGO that provides emergency response and health programs around the world.

Sahloul, who was in Gaza in January, said the enclave is reaching a “tipping point.”

“Gaza at this stage is unlivable because of the persistent destruction of the infrastructures that are required for life,” he said.

The continued squeeze on deliveries of humanitarian assistance and commercial goods is pushing the population to the brink of famine, particularly in northern Gaza, with malnutrition and food insecurity reaching “catastrophic levels,” said Sahloul.

INNUMBERS

• 164 Attacks on healthcare infrastructure in Gaza since Oct. 7.

• 400 Medical workers killed since eruption of conflict.

• 295 Hospital beds currently available in Gaza.

Source: WHO

Chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers that require regular medication, dialysis, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, are going untreated as a result of shortages and the destruction of healthcare infrastructure, he added.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, including 13,000 children, according to the local health ministry.

Sahloul believes this is “an underestimate of the real numbers,” however, as roughly 5,000 people are still thought to be buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

And these numbers “will continue to accelerate even if the war stops right now,” he said.

“The collapse of the healthcare system will lead to pregnant women dying from bleeding and diarrhea patients dying from dehydration.”




Zaher Sahloul, who was in Gaza in January, said the enclave is reaching a “tipping point.” (Supplied)

And if Israel follows through on its threat to mount an attack on Rafah, Sahloul fears such an incursion will result in a “bloodbath,” and the death of an estimated 250,000 people.

During his address to UN officials, Sahloul showed a photograph of Hiam Abu Khodr, a Palestinian child who lost her father and brother when a bomb destroyed her home. Her mother was also injured in the blast. Hiam, meanwhile, suffered third-degree burns to 40 percent of her body.

“If you want to define post-traumatic stress disorder, this is what it looks like in the face of a child who is 7 years old,” said Sahloul.

Hiam waited weeks for an evacuation to Egypt for treatment. However, she died of her injuries two days after leaving Gaza. According to Sahloul, just 10 percent of the 8,000 patients in need of evacuation for treatment abroad have been able to leave.

Sahloul described “apocalyptic” scenes in the few hospitals that remain partially functional in Gaza, where the wounded brought into overcrowded wards are mostly treated on the floor. He described the case of 12-year-old Mohmad Abu Shahla, who arrived unable to breathe.




Any medic who has worked in Gaza in recent months can dispel “with absolute certainty” the notion that Israel is conducting targeted bombing of Hamas militants and is protecting civilians,” said Nick Maynard. (AFP)

Mohmad had surgery to remove shrapnel from his abdomen before he was whisked to the intensive care unit where Sahloul tended to him. However, the boy “never woke up.”

“We were not able to communicate with his family. We sent him to the morgue. And I made a copy of his death certificate, to keep it as a proof.”

On Thursday, displaced civilians camped out in the grounds of Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza were ordered to leave immediately as Israeli forces continued their raid on the hospital complex.

Scores of people have reportedly been killed and 70 health workers arrested during the raid, with thousands more civilians sent south to Rafah, where some 1.4 million people were already hemmed before recent attacks on Khan Younes.

While many “incredibly heroic” healthcare workers decided to stay, Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian-American emergency medicine physician who was with Sahloul in Gaza in January and who also spoke at the UN event, chose to evacuate before the raid.

On his way into Gaza, Ahmad said he saw “hundreds of trucks” lined up on the Egyptian side of the border waiting to bring aid into the enclave.




The Israeli government says its military does not target civilians or hospitals. (AFP)

“We know that these trucks have baby formula. We know that they have many needed items,” including diapers, inhalers, and sedatives for pain relief, he said.

“This is something that we could be using for our patients who are in pain as we’re trying to reset their fractures, clean their burns. It’s an incredibly painful process and this is something that can help. We’re not able to get this into the Gaza Strip because the trucks are stalled.

“Or if someone is having difficulty breathing as you may suspect may happen as bombs are dropping, and air fills with smoke, we’re not able to get a rescue inhaler to be able to treat their asthma.

“Or diapers for families. We’ve heard of people having to use plastic bags because they cannot find diapers and if they do find them, the price is incredibly high because of inflation and the lack of supplies.

“I hope that this can bring home the urgency that exists on the ground. We need our hospitals to be able to stand. We need the bombs to stop dropping, hopefully through a ceasefire. And we hope that we can get the necessary items in to help alleviate the incredible amount of suffering that’s taking place in the Gaza Strip.”

Also among the doctors’ delegation was Amber Alayyan, a pediatrician from Texas, who has been working with Medecins Sans Frontieres for 13 years.

As a result of the scarcity of medicines, Alayyan said, doctors are faced with “horrific decisions,” sometimes having to intubate patients without anesthetics.

Displaced people with nowhere to go are sheltering in hospitals and sleeping on beds intended for patients, she said.

“What does that mean for injured people? They arrive, they get a quick and dirty surgery in an emergency room or in an operating theater, and they have nowhere to be hospitalized afterward.

“Or when they are, they’re lost in the hospital and our teams spend all day searching for the patients they just operated on 12 hours before.

“The longer the war goes on, the longer these wounds have to rot. I mean really rot. No hospital in the world — high-income, low-income — could cope with the amount of injuries that we’re seeing and the needs that we’re seeing on the ground.”

The collapse of Gaza’s health system and shortages of food have left pregnant and lactating women and their newborns especially vulnerable, said Alayyan.

These women “were already facing high iron deficiency, anemia, before the war, which put them at risk for hemorrhage during birth,” she said.




“All the Gazans I’ve spoken to, say the endgame of the Israeli government is to force them out completely from Gaza, to eradicate them from that land,” Nick Maynard. (AFP)

“With the war, it puts them in a state of undernourishment and potentially malnutrition, which means that they can’t breastfeed their children properly. The milk doesn’t necessarily come in and it’s definitely not enough.

“The other population is children under 2 years, which is the breastfeeding age. Those children need to be breastfed. If they can’t, then they need a formula. To have formula you need clean water. None of these things are possible.”

She said women are “squeezing fruit dates into handkerchiefs and drip feeding their children with some sort of sugary substance to nourish them.”

“How many people are going to need prosthetics? What is the socioeconomic status of Gaza going to look like in five years? In three years? In three months? How can this population, that is so incredibly resilient, rebuild itself? And the longer the war goes on, the harder this becomes.”




“No hospital in the world — high-income, low-income — could cope with the amount of injuries that we’re seeing,” said Amber Alayyan.

Ahmad said he has often heard it said in Gaza that “there is a war after the war.”

“And it’s a day of reckoning for the people, to think about everything that they’ve lost, all of the struggles that they’ve been through.”

He added: “Oftentimes, what we can see is there can be a paralysis by analysis. And there could be a lot of deliberations that take place.

“We just want to impress upon the people who are at the table that this is very urgent and we need things to change within the next few hours or days, not weeks.”


Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
Updated 8 sec ago
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Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
  • Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates, five conservatives and a relative reformist
  • Election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions, compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.

Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”


UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan
Updated 38 min 17 sec ago
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UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

DUBAI: The UAE will allocate $5 million to support the Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF) that would be managed by the United Nations, state-run WAM news agency reported. 
In an agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UAE contribution to the Sudan Humanitarian Fund will be managed by OCHA, in order to “facilitate access to funds to address the most critical humanitarian needs and emergencies on the ground,” WAM reported. 
Martin Griffiths, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in a statement said: “We are deeply grateful to the Government and the people of the United Arab Emirates for your generous support of $70 million to help bring relief to the people of Sudan through the United Nations. With this allocation, we can bolster our lifesaving support to families and communities caught up in Sudan's unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
“The UAE’s long-term support to Sudan is a testament to our dedication to fostering a prosperous Sudan and promoting stability in the region. We are pleased to partner with OCHA and other UN agencies to deliver vital aid to those most impacted,” according to Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“I reiterate the UAE’s unwavering position is to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and a peaceful solution to the crisis,” she added.

Meanwhile, Emirati officials also signed an agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and prevent the imminent risk of famine. 

FAO has received US$5 million in funding from the UAE, which will be directed towards the project titled ‘Mitigating Famine in Sudan – Support to Conflict-Affected Vulnerable Smallholder Farming and Pastoralist Households’.

The FAO project, set to run for one year, aims to provide emergency crop, livestock, and veterinary assistance to 275,000 vulnerable smallholder farmer and pastoralist households, benefiting approximately 1,375,000 individuals.

The UAE contributions to OCHA and FAO are part of a broader commitment of $70 million dedicated to addressing urgent humanitarian needs in Sudan, through UN agencies and humanitarian organizations.

This funding is a substantial portion of the $100 million pledge made by the UAE in April at a global humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighboring countries.
This contribution takes the total amount of UAE aid to Sudan in the past 10 years to more than $3.5 billion.


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • “This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” Red Cross says
  • Humanitarian organization says Gaza office was ‘damaged’ in a shell attack Friday 

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office
  • It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties”

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Likely Yemen Houthi rebel attack targets ship in Gulf of Aden as Eisenhower reportedly heads home

Likely Yemen Houthi rebel attack targets ship in Gulf of Aden as Eisenhower reportedly heads home
Updated 22 June 2024
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Likely Yemen Houthi rebel attack targets ship in Gulf of Aden as Eisenhower reportedly heads home

Likely Yemen Houthi rebel attack targets ship in Gulf of Aden as Eisenhower reportedly heads home
  • The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza

DUBAI: A commercial ship traveling through the Gulf of Aden saw explosions near the vessel, authorities said Saturday, likely the latest attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attempting to target the shipping lane.
The apparent fire by the Houthis comes after the sinking this week of the ship Tutor, which marked what appears to be a new escalation by the Iranian-backed Houthis in their campaign of attacks on ships in the vital maritime corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, US officials reportedly ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the aircraft carrier leading America’s response to the Houthi attacks, to return home.
The captain of the ship targeted late Friday saw “explosions in the vicinity of the vessel,” the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said.
“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” the UKMTO said, without elaborating on whether the ship sustained any damage.
The Houthis, who have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since 2014, did not immediately claim the attack. However, it can take the rebels hours or even days to acknowledge their assaults.
The Houthis on Friday released footage of one of their drone boats, the “Tufan,” or “Flood,” which they said targeted the Tutor.
The Houthis have launched more than 60 attacks targeting specific vessels and fired off other missiles and drones in their campaign that has killed a total of four sailors. They have seized one vessel and sunk two since November. A US-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.
In March, the Belize-flagged Rubymar carrying fertilizer became the first to sink in the Red Sea after taking on water for days following a rebel attack.
The Houthis have maintained that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the Israel-Hamas war.
Meanwhile, the US Naval Institute’s news service reported, citing an anonymous official, that the Eisenhower would be returning home to Norfolk, Virginia, after an over eight-month deployment in combat that the Navy says is its most intense since World War II. The report said an aircraft carrier operating in the Pacific would be taking the Eisenhower’s place.
The closest American aircraft carrier known to be operating in Asia is the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The Roosevelt anchored Saturday in Busan, South Korea, amid Seoul’s ongoing tensions with North Korea.