Gaza medical services impacted after Israeli airstrikes damage clinics and hospitals, say health officials

Rescuers pull a girl from the rubble at the site of Israeli air strikes in Gaza City (Reuters)

Bel Trew

The Independent  /  May 16, 2021

Among 42 people killed overnight and into Sunday were two senior doctors.

Israeli strikes on Gaza have damaged health facilities, killed two prominent Palestinian doctors, and destroyed roads around the strip’s largest hospital, Gaza health officials and international rights groups have claimed.

The latest bombardment was so intense, it has impacted the ability of medics to treat the wounded, health officials added.

Militants in Gaza meanwhile continued to hit Israel’s cities with a barrage of rockets which set fire to at least one home, the military said, as the conflict entered its seventh consecutive day.

According to international medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Israeli shelling damaged one of its clinics, which had been providing treatment for trauma and burns.

It has left the sterilization room “unusable”, and means MSF’s staff, who are staying nearby, cannot safely access the clinics where they work, a MSF staffer added.

Meanwhile Gaza’s health ministry said that two senior medics had been killed overnight.

It said airstrikes on Gaza City killed Dr Ayman Abu al-Ouf, head of the internal medicine department and coronavirus response at Gaza’s largest hospital al-Shifa, as well as Dr Moein Ahmad al-Aloul, one of Gaza’s few neurologists, who died along with his 5 children.

Gaza’s health ministry also reported damage by indirect fire to Beit Hanoun Hospital and Shohada Daraj medical centre, as well as to roads leading to Al-Shifa hospital.

Photos shared of the area surrounding the strip’s main medical centre showed roads with large craters.

International medics on the ground confirmed to The Independent that streets had been hit.

The Independent reached out to the Israeli military but was unable to get an immediate response.

However senior army officials have repeatedly claimed to do everything in their power to minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, including deploying early warning systems for major targets like tower blocks and assessing the potential for collateral damage before each strike. 

MSF said it was not given prior warning of the shelling, which has damaged the charity’s ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the blockaded enclave.

“We won’t be able to sterilize the tools for dressing burns in Al-Shifa hospital,” Ely Sok, MSF’s head of mission in Palestine, told The Independent.

“Now we can’t, as it was completely destroyed, we have to think about how we can manage that.”

He said it was difficult to launch a medical response because the bombardment made movement unsafe.

“They shelled streets near Al-Shifa hospital and where the clinics are, so internal transportation is not easy even for ambulances. Everything is really complicated now,” he added.

He said that MSF would have expected prior warning of the strike which damaged their clinic so that they could make sure no one was present, as Israel has the GPS coordinates of all their facilities.

Gaza’s health ministry said :”Israeli aeroplanes targeted and blocked the roads leading to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza and various hospitals in Gaza. These attacks impede regular patient movements, and prevent the wounded from obtaining health services.”

Israel has ramped up its airstrikes on Gaza while Palestinian militants have rained rockets down on Israeli cities including Tel Aviv.

Overnight and into Sunday in Gaza at least 42 people, including 12 women and eight children, were killed, medics said. The total death toll since Monday has risen to 188, including more than 50 children.

The Israeli military said nearly 3,000 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza, killing at least 10 people, including two children and a soldier, over the last week.

At midnight, huge volleys of rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, sending residents scrambling for bomb shelters.

Earlier in the day a 50-year-old man was killed by a rocket in Ramat Gan, just east of the city.

The Israeli foreign ministry said: “For over three decades Hamas has been exploiting the resources of Palestinians in Gaza to carry out terror attacks, launching thousands of rockets, killing hundreds of Israelis, targeting civilian communities.”

Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli military said it destroyed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, in a separate strike in the southern town of Khan Younis.

It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders, who have gone underground.

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Sunday, and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has called on the council to seek an early de-escalation of violence.

He also blamed the US for the council’s lack of action so far.

US president Joe Biden has expressed “strong support” for the Israeli strikes on Gaza, but raised concerns about civilian casualties and the protection of journalists on a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bel Trew – Middle East Correspondent, in Jerusalem