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Hospitals and medical centers in Gaza are caught up in a war zone


The humanitarian crisis in Gaza now centers on a single medical facility known as Al-Shifa Hospital. It is one of many health care facilities that are now in a combat zone, and it's a big one. It's in Gaza City, which Israeli troops have surrounded. They're now moving in as part of the war against Hamas. Israel has told people to evacuate Gaza City, even hospitals, but hospital staff at Al-Shifa insist they cannot. So we have called Dr. Zaher Sahloul, who has staff working there. He's the president of the medical aid NGO MedGlobal. That's why he has staff working there. He joins us now from Illinois. Good morning, sir.

ZAHER SAHLOUL: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What did you hear in your last call with people in Al-Shifa?

SAHLOUL: The situation in Al-Shifa Hospital, like many other hospitals in Gaza, especially in northern Gaza, is horrible. It's beyond description. Patients are piling up on the floor because there is not enough space. Surgeons are doing surgeries without anesthesia. Electricity is running very short, so they had to turn off the main electric generator and only focus on the intensive care unit, where they put the newborn babies on incubators. Three babies died, which is unfortunate in the 21st century, because of hypothermia and lack of oxygen because of lack of electricity. And also, dead bodies are piling up in the morgue and everywhere else.

And our staff feel unsafe to evacuate the hospital, even though that they received the instructions because several people who tried to leave the hospital were shot at, and some of them died. And this is a situation in the hospital that is - represent half of the health care system in Gaza. This is the largest hospital in Gaza Strip. I've been in this hospital four times before. It's an amazing place despite of the limitations and the blockade.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that I understand a couple of things that you're telling me. When hospital staff say, we can't evacuate, I understand that from a physical challenge perspective of trying to move people who cannot move themselves. But you're telling me that even if people can move, they cannot reach that safe corridor that Israel says it's opening each day. Is that right?

SAHLOUL: It is unsafe, and there is fighting around the hospital. We contacted the IDF, and they told us that one side of the hospital should be opened. But our staff tells us a different story, that when they tried to leave, they were fighting, and they were shooting, and actually, one of the nurses was killed while she was trying to leave, so that's why they feel unsafe. Ideally, should be ICRC, the International Committee for Red Cross and Red Crescent, that she - able to evacuate the staff, but they are not able to. And also evacuating the patients is terrible because there is not enough medics or monitors to transfer - transport them to the southern of Gaza. And in order to transport patients who are critically ill, you need monitors. You need medics. You need ambulances, and you need also receiving end, and there is not enough beds in southern Gaza to receive those critically ill patients.

INSKEEP: Let's talk through the reason that Israel contends that the hospital should be evacuated. Israel, of course - it says it's fighting Hamas, not the Palestinian people. There is a lot of evidence that Hamas has dug tunnels underneath Gaza City. But the specific Israeli claim is that there is some kind of command center in the tunnels underneath Al-Shifa Hospital. We don't have independent verification of that. That is the Israeli claim. You've been to Gaza a number of times. You're talking with people in the hospital there. Do you consider that possible - that there's a tunnel underground, even if it's not known to the hospital staff?

SAHLOUL: I've been in the hospital four times, and so are four - 35 medical volunteers from MedGlobal, diverse doctors and nurses over the past four years or so. We went to every section in the hospital - ICU, emergency room, outpatient clinic, dialysis centers. There were no suspicious areas. There were no military signs in the hospital. And we're talking about above ground. What's under the ground, no one knows. I mean, we have tunnels in Chicago that no one is aware of. But the hospital looks like any other hospital in Chicago. And it's a - it's - amazing place despite of the blockade and limitations. Doctors over there are very capable. They're up to date. They're better, actually, than some of our doctors here in terms of medical knowledge. The surgeons are very capable.

INSKEEP: Just one other thing to ask about very briefly - Israel offered fuel to the hospital. Apparently, they couldn't work out a safe delivery, and the fuel was refused. Do you think it is possible to get fuel in there?

SAHLOUL: It should be delivered through ICRC. We delivered, actually, my organization, two shipments of fuel early for 12,000 liters every day, and 300 liters that were delivered by the Israelis are not enough. What we're calling for is cease-fire and aid to Gaza across the border...


SAHLOUL: ...Because what's happening right now is trickling of aid, and our administration should do everything to stop the atrocities that are happening in Gaza and deliver aid to the Palestinians in Gaza.

INSKEEP: Zaher Sahloul is the president of MedGlobal. Thanks so much.

SAHLOUL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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