Gaza hospitals have been swept into the most recent bloody clashes between Hamas and Fatah. Despite the fact that dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in the fighting, most hospitals are almost empty of staff and patients after being taken over by gunmen from both factions.
The Beit Hanoun hospital in northern Gaza was the hardest hit. It was effectively closed after five Palestinians, including a father and his two sons, were killed Monday. Gun battles near the site spread from the streets to the hospital itself, with snipers turning rooms and corridors into fortified outposts.
Other hospitals, while not suffering fatalities, have found it difficult to carry out their duties. "We ourselves are not secure. How can we look after the lives of others?" said Ayed al-Wahidi, a doctor at Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest medical center.
While fighting between Fatah and Hamas raged on his hospital's grounds Monday, Shifa had to dispatch an ambulance to pick up a trauma specialist, and the ambulance itself came under fire, al-Wahidi said.
The doctor in question eventually made it to the hospital, but other doctors and nurses have not been able to get to work, leaving Shifa understaffed and barely able to handle the relentless stream of casualties.
Wessam Awadallah, another doctor at Shifa, said the hospital needed 50 doctors to treat all of the wounded. On Tuesday, there were only 20 on duty.
Masked men have been roaming the hospital, occasionally clashing with each other. "We don't know who they are or who they are fighting," Awadallah said. "There will come a moment when we will not be able to treat anyone and let them die."
Hospitals in Gaza in turmoil (Photo: Reuters)
In the European Hospital in the town of Khan Yunis, Hamas-affiliated security guards used the hospital's roof as a staging ground for an assault on a nearby Fatah position on Tuesday, head of nursing Atta al-Jaabari said.
The assault caused a "state of panic" among the medical staff and threatened children at a kindergarten for employees' children on the grounds, he said. Doctors treated three of the wounded as the battle continued.
Afterward, the hospital sent home all nonessential staff and patients whose lives were not in danger. The doctors and nurses remained.
The International Red Cross has repeatedly called for Palestinians to refrain from fighting near hospitals, but to no avail.
"The ICRC reminds all sides involved in the fighting that attacks on medical institutions, their patients and their staff are serious violations of international humanitarian law. It also underlines that medical institutions must not be used for belligerent purposes," the organization said in a statement.