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Gaza: “The situation is catastrophic; the hospitals are overwhelmed”

An account of the situation in Gaza from Léo Cans, MSF's head of mission in Palestine.

Smoke over Gaza after Israeli airstrikes on October 9.

Palestine 2023 © MSF

On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a major attack in Israel, striking various sites, including civilian gatherings and villages, firing rockets on multiple cities, and taking scores of hostages, mostly civilians. The Israeli government declared war on Hamas and began a massive counteroffensive in Gaza, launching a barrage of air strikes hitting civilian areas and cutting off all supplies of food, water, and electricity. As an independent, impartial humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of civilians and medical facilities.
By Léo Cans, MSF head of mission in Palestine

The situation in Gaza is catastrophic. The hospitals are overwhelmed. The number of wounded is extremely high, with a constant influx of patients in all the hospitals in the Gaza Strip. Medical teams are exhausted, working around the clock to treat the wounded. 

The bombardments are very intense. Entire buildings are being destroyed, including one last night right next to the MSF office. Sometimes people receive a text message in the middle of the night telling them to evacuate their homes, as happened to some of our team members in Gaza. You have to wake up your children in the middle of the night and leave your house, without taking any of your belongings, to find safety. But very often, people don't know where to go. They find themselves outside in the middle of the night, under a hail of bombs. Where can they find safety?

Very often, people don't know where to go. They find themselves outside in the middle of the night, under a hail of bombs. Where can they find safety?

Now the Israeli government has decided to completely cut off water and electricity supplies, and the phone network has been badly damaged. This morning, we were unable to reach our teams in Gaza by phone. Inevitably, this all makes it extremely difficult to coordinate rescue operations and access the injured.

The intensity of the violence and bombardment is shocking, as is the death toll. The declaration of war must not, under any circumstances, lead to collective punishment of the population of Gaza. Cutting off water, electricity, and fuel supplies is unacceptable, as it punishes the entire population and deprives them of their basic needs. 

A crowd of Palestinians surrounded by rubble and smoke from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
In Gaza, the water and electricity supply has been cut off and phone networks no longer work as people flock to medical facilities for care.
Palestine 2023 © MSF

"This time, it's different"

The latest estimates put the number of people displaced by the current violence at around 200,000. They are mainly people whose homes have been destroyed. They need everything: water, a place to shower, food, a mattress to sleep on. These are varied but basic needs. 

In Gaza today, people are terrified. I speak very regularly with our colleagues there. They are very tough people because unfortunately they have lived through a lot of wars, but the current situation is causing extreme anxiety. They say that this time it's different, that they don't see a way out and wonder how it’s all going to end. They are in terrible mental distress. There aren't words to describe what people are going through.

We repeat: Medical facilities must be respected. This is not something that should have to be negotiated.

As for MSF, we are very concerned to see that medical facilities have not been spared. One of the hospitals we support was hit by an airstrike and damaged. Another airstrike destroyed an ambulance carrying the wounded, right in front of the hospital where we work. The MSF team was operating on a patient and had to leave the hospital in a hurry. 

We repeat: Medical facilities must be respected. This is not something that should have to be negotiated.

Currently, MSF is donating essential medicines and medical equipment to the main hospitals in Gaza. We have also sent surgical teams to two hospitals to help treat the wounded. In the coming days, there will also be a lot of post-operative surgeries, as most of the wounded we receive will need several surgical interventions before they can be saved. Yesterday we also set up a clinic in downtown Gaza City for people with other injuries, which we will try to keep open if conditions allow.

Yesterday morning, we received a 13-year-old boy whose body was almost completely burned after a bomb fell right next to his house, starting a fire. These are very complicated cases to treat in such conditions and, when children are involved, it's very hard to bear. 

How we're responding to the war in Gaza

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