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Gaza: ‘The situation is catastrophic’

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The situation is catastrophic
  • First-person account by Léo Cans, MSF country director, Palestine (based in Jerusalem)

GAZA CITY – “The situation in Gaza is catastrophic; the hospitals are overwhelmed. The number of wounded is extremely high – there is a constant influx into all the hospitals in the Gaza Strip. The 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 get to 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?

The latest estimates put the number of displaced people at around 200,000, mainly people who have received those SMS messages and whose homes have been destroyed. They need everything: water, a place to shower, food, a mattress to sleep on… in short, these are varied but basic needs.

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.

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 them extreme anxiety. They say that this time it’s different: they don’t see a way out and they 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.

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, who were operating on a patient, 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 the Gaza Strip. 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 surgery to be carried out, 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.

The intensity of the violence and bombardments 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. “

About MSF in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

MSF has been running medical programs in Gaza for more than 20 years, supporting a healthcare system that urgently lacks both medical personnel and supplies. Our teams work in three hospitals and several outpatient clinics, offering comprehensive care for people suffering from burns and trauma. Since 2018, MSF has been running a reconstructive surgery program in northern Gaza. We also operate several medical programs in the West Bank.

MSF does not run medical programs in Israel, which has strong emergency and health services. Since we currently only run programs in the Palestinian Territories, our reporting is rooted in the direct witnessing of our patients and staff on the ground there. As an independent, impartial humanitarian organization, we call on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of civilians and medical facilities.

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