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Gaza hospital staff: "I can't leave if you're shooting at me"

In a series of audio recordings, MSF staff bear witness to the Israeli military siege of hospitals in Gaza.

Surgeons operate under a spotlight at Al Aqsa hospital in Gaza.

Doctors perform surgery at Al Aqsa Hospital in southern Gaza on November 29. | Palestine 2023 © MSF

After the week-long truce between Israel and Hamas broke on December 1, Israeli forces called for people in areas of central Gaza and Khan Younis to evacuate further south to Rafah. The MSF-supported Martyrs and Beni Suhaila clinics are located in areas under the evacuation order. In the north, Al Awda Hospital, where our colleagues still work, was damaged in a blast just hours after the truce ended. It's one of the only hospitals still functioning in northern Gaza. We need a sustained ceasefire now.

In the early days of November, the Israeli army began to gradually surround the main hospitals in northern Gaza. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff witnessed several attacks on these facilities, their medical staff, and patients. 

Our teams have sent voice notes and messages of what they are experiencing on the ground over the past nearly two months. Here are some recent recordings they have sent us as the Israeli siege of hospitals intensified this month. 


Dr. Mohammad Abu Mughaiseb, MSF’s deputy medical coordinator in Gaza:

This is the first time that the Israeli army is really targeting the hospitals, and mainly around the hospitals first of all, with heavy airstrikes around the hospitals. But then later, on the first of November, they started to bomb heavily mainly around Al-Shifa Hospital, the neighborhood close to Al-Shifa Hospital, and the Indonesian Hospital in the north. And it was clear what they wanted.

The message was to evacuate the hospitals and they asked the teams in several phone calls to leave the hospital and the people who are sheltering there and the patients.

So it became more heavy and it's an unusual thing that I—I mean, I never saw this before.

MSF surgeon at Al-Shifa Hospital: 

Now the situation is very bad. We can see actually the smoke around the hospital. They hit everything around the hospital and they hit the hospital many times.

We don't want to stay in the hospital, but we want someone to give us the guarantee that we can evacuate the patients, because we have about 600 patients who need medical care and who need evacuation.

Dr. Mughaiseb, MSF deputy medical coordinator in Gaza:

So when I listened, there was a bombing in Al-Shifa, or Al-Nasr, or whatever hospital was being targeted beside it, I was trying to contact the doctors who are inside there to get more information, to get the right information to confirm.

I can tell you, for example, recently at the pediatric hospital, at Al-Nasr Hospital, we had a staff member, he was volunteering in Al-Nasr Pediatric Hospital, it's the main pediatric hospital in Gaza City. I was in touch with him as well, and the hospital was targeted by the tanks, was being shelled by the tanks.

This MSF staff member was sheltering with his family and volunteering at Al-Nasr Pediatric Hospital while he witnessed the Israeli army repeatedly attacking the hospital.

Do not fire at this hospital.

Do not hit civilians, do not hit patients, do not kill patients.

Do not prevent us from taking our patients.

They initially hit the children's inpatient department on the second floor. They also hit the first floor, water tanks, electricity, and oxygen extractors.

Life in Al-Nasr Hospital stopped. The equipment for the children in intensive care, relying on ventilators, stopped working. There was no more oxygen.

The army started randomly firing on us with shells landing near the mosque and the wall, making it impossible for anyone to know what to do.

One of Al-Nasr's doctors then informed the Israeli military about patients and displaced people being inside the hospital.

They said that we needed to leave. He [the doctor] said that we needed to secure ambulances to transfer the patients.

The army rejected his request and said no one could come to take the patients nor transfer the injured. He [the doctor] asked the ambulances to come. But the ambulances never managed to reach the hospital, let alone take the patients or the injured in the reception area.

There was a sniper shooting making it impossible for anyone to leave or move. The doctor asked the Israeli military for a safe way to leave the hospital. They initially agreed, and we walked out. They started firing all around us, so we returned inside and couldn't leave.

He told them: “I can't leave if you're shooting at me.” 

They said they secured safe passage between 11:30 and noon.

We left afterward, hands raised with a white flag, carrying our children and families.

Five patients remained in intensive care on oxygen machines. We left them and took one baby with us. We found an ambulance from Al-Shifa Hospital. They took the baby and we asked them to transfer him to the nursery in Al-Shifa Hospital.

To see patients die in front of us is the hardest feeling I experienced in my life. It is an indescribable feeling. Our hearts broke for them. We couldn't help them, take them, or treat them. We could barely get ourselves and our children out. We are civilians, a medical team, and displaced civilians.

Dr. Abu Mughaiseb:

Dr. **** is an orthopedic surgeon. He works partially with MSF as well, and he was working during the war until the last day in Al-Quds Hospital before evacuating it, and they were targeted, several targets around Al-Quds Hospital. At the beginning they targeted airstrikes around the hospital. And you know, airstrikes around the hospital, it means severe collateral damage of everything, windows, doors.

But it was from Dr. ****, I heard. Because I called him because of the incidents, because it was very hot at that time in Al-Quds Hospital, so I called him, I managed to reach him, and it was airstrikes around the hospital, around the hospital, I mean, in the same parking, near the parking, behind it, some buildings.

MSF orthopedic surgeon, Al-Quds Hospital:

I don't have any option to go outside of Al-Quds [hospital]. We have difficulties in this hospital because explosions happen all the time around us.

They asked, actually, many times here to evacuate this hospital. And we don't. I mean, we cannot, because they don’t say where to evacuate and how to evacuate our patients. And actually, we have thousands of civilian people in the hospital. How? How to convince them to go outside? Where? Where to go?

MSF surgeon at Al-Shifa Hospital: 

There’s a lot of patients already operated on and they can’t walk, they can’t evacuate, they need ambulances. We don’t have these ambulances to evacuate all these patients. They bombed many buildings around us.

We cannot leave. We cannot leave because from the morning until now, we operated on [about] 25 patients. If I am not here or the other surgeon, who will take care of the patients? […] There is a patient who needs surgery. There is a patient who's already asleep in our department. We cannot evacuate ourselves and [leave] these people inside.

Dr. Abu Mughaiseb: 

And some of our team, even in the MSF office, who still are in Gaza City, from the windows of the office, they saw people lying in the streets, dying, I mean dead bodies, not lying—dead bodies.

I mean, of course, everywhere in the world, hospitals are untouchable. I mean, it's a hospital. Of course, people are going there to shelter there, thinking that it's a safe place. They don't have a place anymore, their houses are destroyed.

And the safe place, and everywhere in the world, is the hospital, is the mosque, is the church. But in Gaza, no, there is, I mean, it's not anymore safe.

In Gaza, hospitals, medical staff and patients must be protected. An immediate, lasting, and sustained ceasefire is needed to prevent more deaths. The siege must be lifted to allow an unconditional and continuous flow of humanitarian supplies and personnel to cross into Gaza.

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