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At 1 Gaza hospital, doctors are fleeing, supplies are low and there's not enough beds

Thousands of Palestinians have taken shelter at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, as Israeli forces press an offensive nearby.
Anas Baba
/
NPR
Thousands of Palestinians have taken shelter at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, as Israeli forces press an offensive nearby.

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — The front line of Israel's offensive on Gaza runs through the middle of the territory's second-largest city, with Israeli troops pushing in from the east as people flee the fighting and swamp the city's few hospitals.

In the rubble-strewn streets of Khan Younis, people are piling belongings into cars, trucks and donkey carts to escape Israel's devastating bombardment of the Palestinian territory.

As heavy fighting continued Monday close to the city's main hospital, Nasser Medical Complex, Israeli security chiefs paid a rare visit to the city, where the Israeli military says it is concentrated on dismantling Hamas targets, including tunnels that run under hospitals.

Israel launched its air-and-ground offensive in Gaza following a surprise attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas militants that killed 1,200 people, Israel says. Since then, more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza health ministry. The military operation has displaced about 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million people, according to the United Nations.

On Tuesday, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) repeated a dire warning that has grown louder among humanitarian groups and agencies in recent weeks, saying that the situation in Gaza is on the "brink of collapse."

"WFP calls for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of all border crossings to provide relief and put an end to the suffering," the U.N. agency said in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

Israel says just over 100 of its soldiers have been killed and around 600 wounded since the start of the ground assault. Israeli media, citing data released by Israel's military, say that so far, 13 soldiers have been killed in friendly fire incidents and another seven in "operational accidents."

ICU nurse Dr. Samer Mansour tends a patient at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, on Monday.
Anas Baba / NPR
/
NPR
ICU nurse Dr. Samer Mansour tends a patient at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, on Monday.

At Nasser Medical Complex in central Khan Younis, what head ICU nurse Dr. Samer Mansour describes can hardly be called a functioning hospital — no syringes, no gauze, no medications. There is not enough water and electricity from generators is spotty, at best, he says. There are four patients for each of the hospital's 300 beds, resulting in many patients being forced to lie in the corridors. Mansour estimates that 20,000 others are using the hospital grounds simply as shelter from the fighting.

In the hospital's ICU, Mansour says he's afraid to leave patients on mechanical ventilator support. "I can't leave because they will die," he says.

Dr. Mohammad Zaqout, the director of hospitals at the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza, tells NPR that dozens of doctors at Nasser have fled. They fear Israeli troops could occupy the hospital, as happened earlier at the Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, he said.

Mansour says that during last month's brief cease-fire, Nasser began receiving patients from Al-Shifa and the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza, where the opening phase of the Israeli drive to eradicate Hamas was focused. Since the temporary truce ended nearly two weeks ago, things have only gotten worse, Mansour says.

"We have a catastrophic situation here," he says. "We have very few doctors, nurses and administrators."

Children in Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis play in the corridor next to the hospital's burn unit, on Monday.
Anas Baba / NPR
/
NPR
Children in Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis play in the corridor next to the hospital's burn unit, on Monday.

A woman in one of Nasser's corridors who identified herself only as Um Hussam, said that the number of displaced people in Khan Younis increased after the cease-fire ended. She said people were told to go to safe areas, but "they were bombed in these so-called safe places."

"So the talk that these areas were safe places and you can go to them wasn't true," she says.

"Why don't they go and fight against the resistance fighters? Why target us, women and innocent children?" she says. "Do they think the fighters tell us when they come and go? We are just raising children, and then you come and destroy a building with women and children in it. What is their fault?"

A boy inspects the damage of his neighbor's house in Khan Younis on Monday, after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike.
Anas Baba / NPR
/
NPR
A boy inspects the damage of his neighbor's house in Khan Younis on Monday, after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike.

Meanwhile, Israel's defense chief, Yoav Gallant, said at a news conference on Monday that Hamas fighters in Gaza's north had been nearly wiped out, with hundreds surrendering to Israeli forces.

"We have encircled the last strongholds of Hamas in Jabalia and Shujaiya, the battalions that were considered invincible, that prepared for years to fight us, are on the verge of being dismantled," Gallant said.

In Khan Younis, Israel's military says that in the last few days it has parachuted seven tons of water to soldiers engaged in combat operations there. It released a a video of what it says is the first operational use of an advanced "guided supply" system "that enables parachuting equipment to ground forces using precise navigational capabilities."

NPR producer Anas Baba reported from Khan Younis, Gaza Strip; NPR's Scott Neuman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anas Baba
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.