GAZA (Reuters) – Hundreds of patients desperately needed his help, but now there was nothing he could do.
With Al-Ahli Hospital shaking under Israeli tank fire and no anesthetic left for surgery, British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta told his team it was time to leave the last fully functioning hospital in Gaza City .
“It was a living nightmare – leaving 500 wounded behind and knowing there was nothing more that could be done for them. It’s just the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to do,” Abu Sitta told Reuters from the hospital and on foot to the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Friday, a day after he left.
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Israel has ordered the entire northern half of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, to be evacuated as it presses forward with its campaign to destroy the Hamas group that rules the territory. All hospitals in the north have practically ceased operations.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said that as of November 16, only nine of the enclave’s 35 hospitals were even partially functioning. It puts the confirmed Palestinian death toll as of last Friday at over 11,500, including at least 4,700 children.
Hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been overwhelmed and lacking supplies since Israeli forces began their campaign to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which Israel said killed about 1,200 people.
“Al Ahli was completely overwhelmed with wounded. And we were deployed all night (on Wednesday),” Abu Sitta said in an internet call. “And in the early hours of the morning (on Thursday) … we realized that we had basically run out of medication for the anesthesia machines and we had to close the operating room.”
Abu Sitta said he and his team had been particularly busy in recent weeks treating patients after an Israeli airstrike on a nearby mosque and after Israeli forces surrounded and then entered Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa.
He said a message was received at Al-Ahli Hospital that it had also been surrounded by Israeli tanks.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in and around Al Ahli. The Israeli military claims Hamas has tunnels and command centers under and next to some hospitals, an accusation Hamas denies.
On the five-hour walk from Al Ahli to the refugee camp, Abu Sitta said he saw “scenes of destruction” and bodies lying on the road.
He said patients who needed treatment remained in Al Ahli and another hospital in northern Gaza was unable to accommodate them.
“Basically there is no functioning hospital in the entire northern Gaza Strip,” he said.
His immediate plan is to rest.
“We have been operating non-stop for the past week since Al Shifa (surrounded). “I just made the decision that I need to sleep until I figure out what I want to do next,” he said.
(Reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Peter Graff)
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