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UN staff: Israeli siege renders Gaza's Nasser Hospital a 'place of death'

This handout photograph provided by WHO shows a convoy of ambulances during a mission to evacuate patients from Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip, on February 18, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

UN staff members who helped evacuate critically wounded patients from Nasser Hospital in the Gaza Strip have described "appalling" conditions in the territory’s second-largest medical facility, saying it has turned into a “place of death.”

"The conditions are appalling. There are dead bodies in the corridors. Patients are in a desperate situation,” said Jonathan Whittall, senior humanitarian affairs officer at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory.

"This has become a place of death, not a place of healing," he added.

Whittall, who took part in evacuation missions along with teams from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) on February 18 and 19, raised concern about conditions of dozens of patients and staff who remain trapped inside the hospital amid intensified Israeli bombardment of the area in a video posted on X.  

The UN health agency issued a statement on social media on Tuesday morning, saying its staff managed to transfer 32 critical patients, including two children, out of the hospital on Sunday and Monday.

There are still an estimated 130 sick and injured patients and at least 15 doctors and nurses inside the facility, WHO said, warning that the conditions inside the facility are ripe for the spread of disease.

Medical authorities in the Gaza Strip say at least eight patients have lost their lives at the hospital in the southern part of the territory as oxygen supplies, fuel, water, and electric power were cut off from the entire medical complex.

Navigating through pitch-black corridors with flashlights, rescuers managed to locate patients despite the backdrop of gunfire.

“You can think about the worst situation ever. You multiply that by 10 and this is the worst situation I have seen in my life,” said Julio Martinez, a WHO staff, emphasizing there were "patients everywhere.”

The global health agency, OCHA, and the PRCS said efforts were underway to evacuate further patients.

Gaza hospitals have been overwhelmed by more than four months of Israel's bombardment of the territory.

Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis is now the "backbone of the health system in southern Gaza,” according to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he was "alarmed" by reports from there.

According to reports, despite the critical situation, doctors and nurses are urging the hospital to resume its functions instead of seeking evacuation.

“They’re asking, actually, not to be evacuated from the hospital but for the hospital to function. For the lights to be turned back on, for the medicine they need to treat the patients that remain,” said Dr. Thaer Ahmad, a US-based emergency physician who spent several weeks volunteering at the Nasser Hospital in January.

WHO described the dismantling and degradation of the Nasser Hospital as a “massive blow” to Gaza’s health system.

The Gaza Health Ministry appealed to all international institutions to intervene quickly to save the patients and staff at the Nasser Medical Complex before it was too late.

Khan Yunis has been the main target of Israel’s ground offensive for weeks. The regime now says its forces will soon raid the overcrowded southernmost city of Rafah.

The town, once declared a “safe zone” by the regime, is currently home to about 1.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced.

Since the start of its latest aggression in October, the Tel Aviv regime has killed over 29,300 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory. Nearly 70,000 other individuals have sustained injuries as well.

Israel has also imposed a “complete siege” on the coastal sliver, cutting off fuel, electricity, food, and water. 

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