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World Health Organization ‘strongly’ condemns attack on Gaza hospital

The World Health Organizaton (WHO) has strongly condemned an attack on a hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip, with early reports indicating hundreds of fatalities and injuries of healthcare workers and patients.

The World Health Organizaton (WHO) has strongly condemned an attack on a hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip, with early reports indicating hundreds of fatalities and injuries of healthcare workers and patients.

Al Ahli Arab Hospital was one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military. WHO said the order for evacuation had been impossible to carry out given the current insecurity, critical condition of many patients, and lack of ambulances, staff, health system bed capacity, and alternative shelter for those displaced.

In its capacity as the United Nation’s agency responsible for public health, it has now called for the immediate active protection of civilians and health care. It said evacuation orders must be reversed and international humanitarian law must be abided by, which means health care must be actively protected and never targeted.

It added: “The lives of many critically ill and fragile patients hang in the balance: those in intensive care or who rely on life support; patients undergoing hemodialysis; newborns in incubators; women with complications of pregnancy, and others all face imminent deterioration of their condition or death if they are forced to move and are cut off from life-saving medical attention while being evacuated.

“Health facilities in northern Gaza continue to receive an influx of injured patients and are struggling to operate beyond maximum capacity. Some patients are being treated in corridors and outdoors in surrounding streets due to a lack of hospital beds.

“Forcing more than 2000 patients to relocate to southern Gaza, where health facilities are already running at maximum capacity and unable to absorb a dramatic rise in the number of patients, could be tantamount to a death sentence.”

Doctors face agonising choice

Earlier this week, it said that hospital directors and health workers face an agonising choice: abandon critically ill patients amid a bombing campaign, put their own lives at risk while remaining on site to treat patients, or endanger their patients’ lives while attempting to transport them to facilities that have no capacity to receive them.

Additionally, tens of thousands of displaced people in northern Gaza are seeking refuge in open spaces in or around hospitals, treating them as havens from violence as well as to protect the facilities from potential attacks. Their lives, too, are at risk when health facilities are bombed.

WHO also reiterated its calls for the immediate and safe delivery of medical supplies, fuel, clean water, food, and other humanitarian aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, where life-saving assistance – including WHO health supplies – is currently awaiting entry.

BMA statement on Gaza siege by Israeli forces

Last week, the British Medical Association (BMA) also said it was deeply concerned about the horrific events in Israel and Gaza and the devastating loss of life.

In a statement it said that the Hamas attack which began on Saturday 8th October 2023 is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and it condemned it in the strongest possible terms. The targeting of civilians by Hamas is unacceptable under the Geneva Conventions; such action is never justified. The taking of civilian hostages is similarly denounced by the Geneva Conventions and they must be released post-haste.

The BMA also said it was alarmed by the Gaza siege by Israeli forces, which has led to numerous civilian deaths.

It added: “The denial of access to food, water, electricity, and medical supplies to roughly two million people in Gaza is a breach of the Geneva Conventions and cannot be countenanced; the principle of medical impartiality must be respected. Medicine should never be used as a bargaining chip in any conflict. A humanitarian corridor must be established.

“The BMA urges all sides in this conflict to demonstrate restraint. International humanitarian law must be respected as must the principle of medical impartiality. Doctors on the ground must be able to provide vital medical care without being targeted, and we stand in solidarity with our medical colleagues who continue to care for the rising numbers of injured in the most difficult circumstances.”

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