WHO says transfers 32 patients out of besieged Gaza hospital

Agence France-Presse
WHO says transfers 32 patients out of besieged Gaza hospital
This handout photograph taken on February 18, 2024 by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows a convoy of ambulances during a WHO, UN humanitarian agency OCHA and Palestinian Red Crescent mission to evacuate patients from Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, amid ongoing fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Photo by Christopher Black / World Health Organization

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization said Tuesday it had transferred 32 patients out of the besieged Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza but said it feared for the patients and medics still inside.

WHO staff said the scenes around the hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis were "indescribable".

"The area was surrounded by burnt and destroyed buildings, heavy layers of debris, with no stretch of intact road," WHO said.

"Nasser Hospital has no electricity or running water, and medical waste and garbage are creating a breeding ground for disease," the UN health agency said.

Israeli troops entered the Nasser hospital on Thursday, following days of fighting around the complex. It is the main hospital in the southern Gaza Strip.

WHO said its degradation was "a massive blow to Gaza's health system".

After being denied access to the hospital on Friday and Saturday, WHO said it led two missions to transfer 32 patients in a critical state, including two children, from the complex on Sunday and Monday.

The missions also provided small supplies of essential medicines and food for remaining patients and staff.

The transferred patients were moved to other hospitals and to field hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

The patients were transferred by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in four ambulances.

"Weak and frail patients were transferred amidst active conflict," WHO said, while road conditions slowed down the vehicles.

They "included three suffering from paralysis," two of whom "required continuous manual ventilation throughout the journey", it said.

Several others had "external fixators for severe orthopaedic injuries".

One patient with a spinal fracture, who had previously been moved from Al-Ahli hospital in northern Gaza, "had to be transferred again, despite his condition".

130 patients remaining 

WHO said an estimated 130 patients and at least 15 doctors and nurses remain in the hospital.

The intensive care unit was no longer functioning and WHO staff transferred the only remaining ICU patient to a different part of the complex where others are receiving basic care.

"WHO fears for the safety and well-being of the patients and health workers remaining in the hospital and warns that further disruption to life-saving care for the sick and injured would lead to more deaths," it said.

France-based charity Doctors Without Borders separately said it was "outraged" that medical staff and patients were still trapped inside the hospital.

"MSF is deeply concerned for the well-being of these patients and calls for their safe evacuation," it said.

It said MSF staff members fled the hospital when it was attacked, fearing for their lives.

But days later, "MSF has still not heard from two of our staff members who were in the hospital at the time of the attack", it added.

"One... has been unaccounted for since the attack and another... was detained at a checkpoint by Israeli forces while trying to leave Nasser hospital," it said, demanding the Israeli authorities share information about their whereabouts.

Hospital 'in darkness'

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told the press in Geneva that patients were in darkness in the hospital corridors, lit only by flashlights and mobile phones.

"This is something that should not be happening in any hospital to any patients or health workers," he said.

The Israeli army denied that the ICU had no electricity, saying power was running there at all times.

"We have been in touch with the hospital, closely monitoring the situation and making sure that they have sufficient supplies," Colonel Moshe Tetro, who is coordinating the army's humanitarian efforts at the hospital, told reporters.

Tetro rejected the Gaza health ministry's claim that some patients had died at the facility since the army began its operation, calling it a "pure lie".

"No Palestinian died in the ICU because of the IDF operation," he said.

The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,195 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the territory's Hamas-run health ministry.

For weeks, Israel has concentrated its military operations in Khan Yunis.

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