08/03/2014 08:53 am ET

Medical Crisis In Gaza: Scared Doctors, Crowded Wards And Traumatized Patients


More than three weeks of conflict between Israeli forces and militants in Gaza have left over 1,700 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis dead, while Gaza's Ministry of Health says more than 9,000 Palestinians are wounded.

Gaza's hospitals are struggling to cope with the large number of casualties.

The WorldPost spoke to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical coordinator Audrey Landmann about the medical situation in the enclave. Landmann is responsible for MSF activities in Gaza and returned from the war zone last week. MSF has worked in the area for over ten years and has an international team of doctors at Gaza City's main hospital al-Shifa. The organization also operates a clinic and brings in medical supplies.

What is the medical situation like in Gaza right now?

Gaza is a very dangerous place at the moment. Hospitals and ambulances have been targeted, and medical staff have died. It is difficult to bring people who have been injured to hospitals. And when people are able to reach hospital, the medics are under great pressure because of the huge amount of patients, especially in the emergency rooms.

Gaza had a fragile health system before the current conflict -- a shortage of essential drugs, lack of medical supplies, and a lot of power cuts made it difficult to operate medical equipment. Now add the pressures of war. One doctor told us they have used 15-days worth of medical supplies in the last 24 hours.

There is a constant wave of casualties and many need multiple procedures, requiring a long stay in the hospital. Therefore, people are forced to share beds in hospital because there are too many patients. Others have to leave the hospital still in a critical condition. Some are not able to reach their homes due to the violence and have to stay at relatives' houses. The sanitary conditions are sometimes terrible. For example, one Palestinian nurse I know has a three-room apartment that is housing 40 people at the moment.

What longer-term impact will the war have on the medical system in Gaza?

I expect that the hospitals that have been damaged in the shelling will be repaired. I'm more worried about the follow-up medical attention for patients. We saw after previous wars in Gaza that people needed secondary follow-up care and surgeries. Now the system is more fragile than ever.

A second challenge is the mental health follow-up. There is the immediate trauma and then the follow up mental health care as people develop symptoms in the coming weeks. Right now people are in survival mode. A lot of people are in shock and won't allow themselves to think, they are just concerned about how to get their children to safety.

People are completely terrorized, tired, and there is no way to escape this tiny piece of land. Almost every day a part of Gaza is evacuated and people don't know where to go. They face constant bombardment. Sometimes there is bombing and shelling for 12 hours in a row. There is no place they feel safe. Parents worry for their children, and children have been completely traumatized by what they saw. Some families were completely destroyed. In one of our clinics there were three sisters and a father who were wounded -- they lost seven siblings and their mother.

Have you seen a lot of people seeking shelter in hospitals around Gaza?

I saw people starting to arrive at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after the ground operation began in the nearby neighborhood of Shujaiyeh in mid-July. In these first few days the UN was still able to take people to their shelters. But now the UN shelters are full and people are afraid to go to them after UN facilities were bombed.

What is appalling is that they arrive at the hospital with nothing. They are sitting on the ground, trying to put up sheets over their heads for shelter. Some organizations have delivered food vouchers - so the displaced get at least one meal per day - and have tried to truck in water. But the organizations have a lot of problems moving around to deliver aid because of the bombing. Some aid workers have died trying to deliver supplies.

At the last count there were around 2,000 people seeking refuge in the grounds of Shifa hospital. Now the same thing is happening at Nasser hospital, south Gaza's main hospital, after the Israeli army recently asked people in east Khan Younis to evacuate. They still have a sense of safety coming to the hospital, but I am not confident it will remain safe.

What sort of conditions are doctors in Gaza working in at the moment?

The Palestinian medical staff are real heroes. They are working for hours, often without eating or taking a break. They are exhausted, and emotionally impacted by the casualties. The doctors are very well organized and they are trying their best. They are working knowing that even in the hospitals, they aren't safe.

This interview was conducted on July 31. It was condensed and edited for clarity.



08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT

White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting

From Reuters:

The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.

"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.

08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT

Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza

Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.


The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT

Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue

From Reuters:

Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.

"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."

Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.

08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT

Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks

Reuters reports:

Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT

Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume

08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT

Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks

A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.

The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.

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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT

Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire

From Reuters:

Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT

IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm

08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT

Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border

ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.

08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT

Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect

Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.

Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.

Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.

The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.

The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.

Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.

Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.