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Hospitals in Gaza are struggling to save people even as the IDF tells them to evacuate

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Israel says it's preparing to invade Gaza as thousands of people there flee south. In Gaza, the health ministry says it will not evacuate hospitals and that doctors and nurses treating the wounded and dying have a moral position that, quote, "obliges us to continue working." The World Health Organization says Israel's evacuation orders of hospitals in northern Gaza are, quote, "a death sentence for the sick and injured." NPR's Ari Daniel has this difficult look at the scene facing health care workers.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Blood was everywhere at Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza on Friday.

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MOHAMMAD MATTAR: In the floor, blood, in every corner of the department, in the corridors, in the tables - anywhere you look.

DANIEL: Mohammad Mattar is the head of radiology at Al-Shifa. Over the week, he'd seen a river of patients with blast injuries, among other things. He and his team help who they can, but supplies are low. And he tells me drinking water has run out.

MATTAR: We have tap water, which is not suitable for drinking here in Gaza, but no fresh water to drink.

DANIEL: Many people have died even before getting medical help. The hospital started to use a section of its ICU as a temporary morgue, in part because people felt it was too dangerous to bury their family members outside in the open. And Mattar says they're not even considering evacuating the hospital because for some patients, it would mean, in his words, sentencing them to execution. Saturday afternoon, on the second day of the Israeli evacuation order, Mattar sent me voice recordings from the entrance to the emergency department.

MATTAR: Hi. Today is a relatively quiet day. Many of the staff here - they take the chance that things are rather calm this morning just to go home for one or two hours.

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DANIEL: To check on their loved ones. But then, Mattar says, while at home, one of the doctors, a plastic surgeon, was killed in an airstrike along with his family. He says it made yesterday a very bad day. Meanwhile, in southern Gaza, as evacuees are streaming in from the north, things haven't let up. Jamal Abu Helal is an orthopedic surgeon at the European Gaza Hospital.

JAMAL ABU HELAL: Doctors stay in the hospital day and night. They cannot go home.

DANIEL: Abu Helal has been sleeping on a mattress in his office. When I spoke with him last night on WhatsApp, he said, sometimes, 100 patients have burst into the ER in the same moment.

ABU HELAL: And when you receive 100 patients, it's crazy thing to work with this enormous number of patients, of injured patients.

DANIEL: With no other choice, Abu Helal and the other surgeons perform many of their operations right on the floor - amputations, abdominal surgery. He says they've treated numerous patients who were attacked while obeying the evacuation order on Friday. And his tools to repair the injuries are in short supply.

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ABU HELAL: It's with difficulty. We work with the minimum.

DANIEL: For instance, to set a broken bone, he'll use two pins instead of the usual four, say, so he can help twice as many people. And a lot of those people, he and other doctors I've spoken with have told me, are kids.

ABU HELAL: Children. Children. Children. Many, many, many children injured. Many children injured. Many children lost their family - father, mother, sisters - without families. This is extremely difficult.

DANIEL: Abu Helal says the streets of southern Gaza are choked with traffic and people, including those evacuating from the north.

ABU HELAL: We - really, we are afraid. You just hear a rocket, bombing. Really, it's very difficult situation. It's very difficult. We are not safe. We are not safe even in the hospitals.

DANIEL: Amidst the violence that's tearing his patients apart, his only hope is peace.

ABU HELAL: We are people. We are respectable people. We are not animals. We are people like other peoples. We respect. We love. Hopefully, the Western people - they believe that we are human.

DANIEL: I spoke with one other physician last night.

Do you have a minute to talk?

MOHANNAD ABU ALQUMBOZ: OK.

DANIEL: OK.

His name is Mohannad Abu Alqumboz, and he trained as an orthopedic surgeon. A colleague of his told me he chose not to evacuate from northern Gaza, where his home is.

ABU ALQUMBOZ: But may you please make it short? Because here we are in an area that is being targeted right now.

DANIEL: Would it be better if I tried later?

ABU ALQUMBOZ: OK. Bye.

DANIEL: I called back later, but no one picked up. Then, hours after, he texted, it was a tough night.

Ari Daniel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Daniel
Ari Daniel is a reporter for NPR's Science desk where he covers global health and development.