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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Southern Gaza’s biggest hospital may be in peril if fighting gets any closer, UN official says

An Israeli soldier at a road junction in the Israeli settlement of Tapuach, West Bank, on Dec. 22, 2023. (Avishag Shaar-Yashuv/The New York Times)

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg

The largest hospital in the southern Gaza Strip still managing to function could be imperiled if bombardment and fighting come closer, a senior U.N. official warned Tuesday.

The fighting may make it impossible for either patients or medical workers to get to Nasser Hospital in the city of Khan Younis, said Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, the representative of the U.N. World Health Organization for Gaza and the West Bank.

The influx of patients wounded in the Israeli assault has already swelled the hospital to three times capacity, Peeperkorn said, and recent evacuation orders issued by Israel forces for civilians north of Khan Younis have raised concerns that the fighting may grow still worse in the area near Nasser Hospital. On Tuesday, the Israeli military said it would focus its operations on Khan Younis, and also on other parts of southern and central Gaza.

“If it becomes such a militarized zone,” Peeperkorn said, “it will be impossible to bring medical supplies into the hospital.”

It is not just Nasser Hospital but Gaza’s whole medical system that is “on its knees,” Peeperkorn said. In a video that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, posted to social media Monday, an aid worker at Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza, Sean Casey, characterized the emergency room there as “far, far beyond its basic capacity” and said that it is impossible to keep up with “the scale of injuries, trauma and suffering that’s coming through these doors 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The WHO has called repeatedly for a cease-fire in Gaza. Short of that, Peeperkorn said, it is critical to at least establish a safe corridor to bring in medical supplies and to evacuate patients. He described conditions in the hospitals as worse than anything he had seen in Afghanistan during that country’s long war.

“There’s an enormous level of amputation, including among children, spinal injuries, burns,” he said. “The effects long term will be on the patients but also on the caregivers.”

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, health authorities there say, and more than 50,000 have been injured, mostly in airstrikes. The Israeli assault began after Hamas, which was then controlling Gaza, launched an attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, Israeli officials said.

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