A Palestinian Aid Worker Describes a Harrowing 18-Day Siege Inside a Gaza Hospital

For more than two weeks, Israeli forces have laid siege to Al-Amal Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, blocking all roads to the facility and deepening an already dire humanitarian crisis. 

The hospital is run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, which has been raising alarm about the 18-day siege, during which at least one Red Crescent volunteer was killed. On Tuesday, Israeli forces ordered thousands of people to evacuate the hospital, most of whom were displaced from other parts of Gaza throughout the monthslong war. Hundreds of medical workers and wounded or disabled patients remain stranded inside.

Last month, the World Health Organization reported that more than 600 people had been killed inside health care facilities since Israel launched a retaliatory war on Gaza on October 7. The “ongoing reduction of humanitarian space plus the continuing attacks on healthcare are pushing the people of Gaza to breaking point,” a WHO spokesperson said.

After ordering residents of northern Gaza to evacuate to the south early on in the war, the Israel Defense Forces have been waging an intense assault on southern Gaza in recent weeks, including in Khan Yunis. The city’s largest hospital, Nasser Hospital, has also been besieged, with only five doctors left to treat the wounded. Just this week, hundreds more Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombs, with the death toll since October nearing 28,000.

The Intercept spoke with Saleem Aburas, a relief coordinator with the Palestine Red Crescent’s Risk and Disaster Management Department, who has been trapped inside the Al-Amal Hospital complex since January 21.

“The siege we are enduring within the hospital feels like a never-ending nightmare,” Aburas said. “Even though there are wounded and deceased people right outside the hospital, we are paralyzed, unable to assist them, as the occupation’s snipers and Israeli aircraft target anyone venturing outside the hospital premises.”

The hospital’s ability to care for patients has deteriorated amid the blockade and a shortage of essential medical supplies, a situation made more dire by the lack of drinking water and food. “We face immense challenges in delivering adequate health care services to the injured, hampered by the occupation’s restrictions on the entry of medical supplies into the hospital,” Aburas said.

For those inside the hospital, communications with the outside world have been largely shut off. (To get online using an eSIM, Aburas must climb to the roof of the hospital and risk bombings or sniper fire.) “The communications blackout was another source of terror,” he said. “Everyone trapped in the hospital doesn’t know anything about his family and loved ones outside the hospital. All we know is that the Israeli bombing continues throughout the Gaza Strip.”

Aburas, who is 30 years old and joined the Red Crescent as a volunteer in 2011, said that the current war is unlike anything he has ever seen in Gaza. “Although I have lived through six Israeli aggressions and many escalations, the nature of the injuries that we saw during this Israeli annihilation of the Gaza Strip is unprecedented, to the point that medical teams are unable to deal with such critical cases due to the deterioration of the health situation.”

Israeli soldiers have at times made announcements over loudspeakers to tell people to stay inside the hospital. They have also targeted civilians in the hospital’s vicinity, Aburas said. On January 28, a sniper shot and killed a 40-year-old man named Omar Abu Hatab and then shot a 21-year-old man who tried to rescue him, Ahmed Muhareb. The two were buried on hospital grounds. “The occupation killed these two people, who were civilians, in cold blood,” Aburas said. 

January 30 was the most violent day of the siege, he said. “The Israeli air and artillery bombardment never stopped, causing damage to Al-Amal Hospital, with broken windows and fragments and debris flying into the hospital from the bombings.” That evening, Israeli soldiers stormed the hospital grounds, igniting fires in an area full of tents and ordering the displaced people gathered there to leave, he recalled. “The occupation ordered them to evacuate the garden,” Aburas said, “but there was nowhere to go, as every place in Gaza was targeted.”

Hedaya Hamad, a Red Crescent worker who was killed on February 2, 2024.
Hedaya Hamad, a Red Crescent worker who was killed on February 2, 2024.
Photo: Courtesy of Saleem Aburas

On February 2, Israeli forces killed Hedaya Hamad, a 42-year-old Red Crescent employee, who was also buried on hospital grounds. Hamad is one of three Red Crescent workers who were killed at Al-Amal Hospital, Aburas said, and the eleventh who was killed since the start of the war in October, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. On Thursday, the Red Crescent reported that one more member of its team was killed, bringing its death toll to 12.

Aburas said that Hamad’s killing “shattered our collective hearts. She had an angelic presence, helping everyone and diligently working to ensure that the work crews got their share of the meager food supplies. To us, she was like a nurturing mother.”

As the siege entered its third week, Aburas said the hospital was at risk of running out of fuel, which powers its backup generators and oxygen supplies. “Just today, an elderly woman perished due to the oxygen shortage,” he said on Wednesday.

Other challenges include a risk of infection due to overcrowding and a shortage of supplies, and the scarcity of food and milk for children. Some medical staff evacuated alongside the thousands of displaced people who left the hospital earlier this week, leaving even fewer health care workers to tend to the wounded. 

An estimated 8,000 people evacuated the hospital earlier this week. They left for Rafah, another area in southern Gaza where more than a million Palestinians are now trapped as the Israeli military threatens a full-scale assault. “The displaced people embarked on a journey into uncertainty, a heart-wrenching scene,” Aburas said. “They were forced to travel from Khan Yunis to Rafah on foot, while those remaining in the hospital — hospital staff, Palestinian Red Crescent personnel, and the wounded — are stuck within its confines, deprived of even the most basic necessities of life.”

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