Hundreds missing from Gaza’s Al-Aqsa Hos­pi­tal amid Israeli bombardment

WHO and UN officials say patients arrive every few minutes in central Gaza hospital operating with 30 percent of staff.

Patients being treated on the flor in the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza
Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah on Sunday [Adel Hana/AP]

Hundreds of patients and staff are reported to be missing from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza, which is struggling to cope amid intense air strikes across the enclave.

The majority of medical staff, as well as around 600 patients, have been forced to leave the complex to unknown locations with no information of their whereabouts, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) reported on Monday.

The two institutions note chaotic scenes as the remaining staff at the hospital continues to try to cope with an influx of injured people as “heavy Israeli bombardment from air, land, and sea intensified across much of the Gaza Strip”.

Staff from the WHO and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) visited the only functioning hospital in the governorate of Deir el-Balah in central Gaza on Sunday. They noted that intense bombing had driven many to seek medical help at Al-Aqsa.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza reports that 225 Palestinians were killed and 296 people injured due to Israeli attacks on January 5 – 7.

The officials said that large numbers of wounded were being treated by very few staff at the facility and called for more protection for medical centres.

The director of the hospital reported that because of increasing hostilities and ongoing evacuation orders, most local health workers and about 600 patients have been forced to leave the facility to unknown locations.

WHO official Sean Casey said that new patients were arriving at the hospital every few minutes, adding that due to evacuation orders and the dangerous situation, there were only five doctors left to oversee hundreds of emergency cases and casualties.

“It is really a chaotic scene. The hospital director just spoke to us, and he said his one request is that this hospital be protected, even though many of his staff have left,” Casey said.

“This hospital is currently operating with about 30 percent of the staff that it had just a few days ago. They are seeing, in some cases, hundreds of casualties every day in a small emergency department.”

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) stated that their emergency medical team had been forced to cease activities at the hospital and leave the facility, as a result of increasing Israeli military activity.

‘Sickening scenes’

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that his staff had witnessed “sickening scenes of people of all ages being treated on blood-streaked floors and in chaotic corridors”.

“Al Aqsa is the most important hospital remaining in Gaza’s Middle Area and must remain functional, and protected, to deliver its lifesaving services,” Ghebreyesus stated.

“Further erosion of its functionality cannot be permitted – doing so in the face of such trauma, injury and humanitarian suffering would be a moral and medical outrage.”

Casey said his team delivered some medical supplies and beds to the hospital on Sunday for thousands of patients in need of dialysis and trauma care.

He added WHO was looking into deploying emergency staff for Al-Aqsa which is “on its knees” like many other medical facilities in Gaza.

Despite growing international pressure for a respite, Israel continues its attacks on Gaza’s health facilities and residential areas in Gaza.

The WHO says hospitals in northern Gaza are completely out of service.

Ghebreyesus has expressed shock at the scale of health needs and devastation in northern Gaza after security concerns forced WHO to cancel a visit to the region’s al-Awda Hospital.

“Urgent, safe and unhindered access to the region is needed to deliver humanitarian aid. Further delays will lead to more death and suffering for far too many people,” he declared.

Overall, at least 22,835 people have been killed – including 9,600 children – in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, according to the authorities in the enclave. Israel says about 1,139 people were killed in Hamas’s October 7 attack.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies