Hope dwindles for Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital as Israel's drones close in

Al Aqsa hospital
2 min read
16 January, 2024

The Israeli occupation shelled Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital last Sunday evening, the biggest medical centre that provides essential health services to thousands of civilians.

The attacks on Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital have intensified in the days since, in a context in which health services throughout the Strip deteriorate even further.

Currently, only 13 out of 35 hospitals which were operating before the Israeli assault are still functioning.

Israel has continued its efforts to completely decimate the central region of the Strip, one aspect of which has been ensuring the population – including the residents of four large refugee camps – cannot find food or medical treatment. Israel's efforts seem to be part of its goal to squeeze Gazans south into Rafah city.

Israel's systematic targeting of hospitals continues

During the last two months, many medical staff and other workers from the UN and other international bodies have been forced to leave the central area and head south, in fear that they will soon face horrific scenarios of military raids like those the northern hospitals experienced.

"Israel has continued its efforts to completely decimate the central region of the Strip, one aspect of which has been ensuring the population - including the residents of four large refugee camps – cannot find food or medical treatment"

Ahmad Abu Amara and a number of his family members are currently sheltering in Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital grounds. They witnessed the shelling of the hospital, and he affirmed that only a small number of medical staff and journalists were still in the hospital, as well as several wounded and sick, and a small number of displaced people, most of them relatives of the injured who are unable to leave the hospital.

Abu Amara says to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site: "The drones and quadcopters are still firing at anyone who approaches the hospital, and even those who try to leave it. Some have managed to get out of the hospital, but moving around the area is still dangerous, and there are many new casualties, and no one can get to them".

He explains that as soon as the Israeli army announced the so-called safe "humanitarian corridor" was changing from the Salah al-Din road, which goes straight through all five governorates of the Gaza Strip, to Al-Rashid Al-Matal Street (the coastal road), "Israel began targeting anyone moving on Salah al-Din road, which is less than one km from the entrance of Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital. It seems the occupation [forces] are trying to completely occupy the east of the Gaza Strip, and this includes controlling the hospital and Deir al-Balah Camp."

The middle area of the Gaza Strip contains four camps where tens of thousands of displaced are sheltering. Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital serves over a quarter of a million people in this region, including the population of the Central Gaza governorate (also known as Deir al-Balah governorate) which includes the Deir Al-Balah, Nuseirat, Bureij and Al-Maghazi refugee camps, and the two cities Deir al-Balah and Al-Zahra, and the villages of al-Mughraqa and Al-Zuwaida, and Hajar al-Deek and Wadi al-Salaqa areas.

The importance of Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital

The Al-Aqsa Hospital is the only hospital in the governorate which contains integrated treatment departments which operate 27/7. It was established by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in 2001, within an emergency plan to treat casualties during the Al-Aqsa Intifada (also known as the Second Intifada).

However it later became a major hospital, and the Gazan Health Ministry has worked intensively to develop its capacity during the last four years, expanding its size to enable it to deal with population growth.

Emergency care doctor Rashid Abdullah is still in the hospital. He says: "The Israeli drones are very close, the medical staff can see them with the naked eye, and they are densely amassed over and around the hospital. They are also repeatedly firing and targeting many areas of Deir al-Balah. The night the hospital was bombed was one of the hardest nights for medical staff here who were working under huge pressure."

"The Israeli drones are very close, the medical staff can see them with the naked eye, and they are densely amassed over and around the hospital"

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 73 people who were killed and 99 injured were brought into Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital in the 24 hours following the bombing. However, Abdullah confirms that the numbers increased after that, and the number of dead had approached 100, while dozens of additional casualties from Deir al-Balah and Al-Zuwaida close by also arrived.

He adds: "We are facing a major shortage of medical personnel while at the same time casualties and martyrs are arriving in huge numbers, and everyone is scared that what happened in Al-Shifa hospital, and the Indonesian Hospital, will be repeated here, or that they will be subjected to a massacre similar to that in Kamal Adwan Hospital, which caused many displaced people to flee for the west of Deir al-Balah camp, with some fleeing to the south of the Strip, and Rafah."

Abdullah explains: "The situation is dangerous for medical personnel, and most fear arrest, as the occupation [Israel] has arrested huge numbers of medical staff from Gaza's hospitals, however, the professional code, and sense of duty makes many stay and continue to work. However, most of the cleaning staff fled with their families when Israel started firing in the area around the hospital, and we are now suffering issues of cleanliness, as well as being under threat as we continue offering medical services."

In a statement, the Gazan Health Ministry confirmed that Israel was terrorising patients and medical staff in Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital using drones, which were firing intensively at the departments and courtyards of the hospital to prompt their evacuation. Following this they had started targeting anyone moving in the vicinity of the hospital.

The statement clarified: "The Israeli occupation is trying to render the hospital non-operational by targeting it with drones, which entails a death sentence for hundreds of injured and sick in the central region of the Strip."

Israel's relentless bombardment has pushed several international medical organisations to withdraw to Gaza's south after their staff had been sent to help Gaza's medical personnel carry out surgical operations and emergency medical healthcare services. The organisation Doctors Without Borders announced it was withdrawing its employees from the central region, including from Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital, due to the intensifying Israeli attacks.

Likewise, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) both announced they were withdrawing their medical staff from Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital on Sunday, due to "increasing Israeli military activity" in the area, though the organisations reported "difficulty" in evacuating their employees and their families.

A doctor treats a Palestinian child at Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital after an Israeli airstrike in Deir al-Balah on January 10, which killed at least 40 Palestinians
[Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty]

Medical personnel forced to flee south with families

Displaced Palestinians sheltering in the Al-Aqsa Hospital represented a large proportion of the population in Gaza's central region. However, many of them had been unable to flee southwards, despite the Salah al-Din road having been situated only minutes away from the hospital gates, because of the dangers threatening anything that moved in the area.

At the same time, fleeing to the western side of Deir al-Balah city or its refugee camp there was difficult because both were crammed with the displaced. Moreover, the shelters there were full and unable to receive any more displaced.

Deir al-Balah camp is the smallest of the eight refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. It had been filled since two weeks after Israel began its assault because Israel had repeatedly broadcasted that Deir al-Balah was a safe zone. The eight UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) - run schools in the governorate were similarly crammed, as were the government-run schools.

Souzan Abu al-Ata fled to Rafah on Monday morning. She is currently sleeping in the open, having been unable to find shelter.

"The occupation decided to expel the population of Bureij camp and big parts of Al-Maghazi camp, so people hurried via the Salah al-Din road to the grounds of Gaza's Al-Aqsa Hospital – as they didn't know if they'd be able to reach the south of the Strip. The latest bombardment pushed us to flee west, and we covered a huge distance on foot before heading south and reaching the al-Mawasi zone in Khan Younis. Then we went to Rafah."

"The Israeli occupation is trying to render the hospital non-operational by targeting it with drones, which entails a death sentence for hundreds of injured and sick in the central region of the Strip"

Upon arriving in Khan Younis, Abu Atta (47) was shocked when she and her relatives were refused shelter at a UNRWA-run school there. This happened again in Rafah, since which they have been forced to sleep in the open, waiting for a shelter to be found.

"My husband and my son were killed in the Shujaiya neighbourhood in November and I fled to Bureij camp, and survived […]. I wished I would die and become a martyr because we were dying a thousand times. Then I fled to the Al-Aqsa Hospital, and planes were deliberately firing on us, and I was nearly hit several times. Every day I wished for death – death would be kinder than the repeating displacements."

UNRWA is now turning away large numbers of displaced Palestinians from their schools, which have been turned into shelters, even though the majority of those who have fled the Al-Aqsa Hospital and the central region are children, women and elderly who have fled south.

On Sunday, UNRWA issued a statement clarifying that its shelters were "massively overcrowded" and that they could not take more people, adding that the pressure on the inhabitants of Gaza was huge, and the organisation did not know how long they would be able to bear the dire conditions "without food, water or shelter."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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