WHO plans more evacuations from Gaza hospital as bodies reportedly decompose

Around 140 patients are stranded in Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, which stopped working after a week-long Israeli siege followed by a raid

By Reuters

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Israeli soldiers operate in Nasser Hospital in Gaza. — Reuters file
Israeli soldiers operate in Nasser Hospital in Gaza. — Reuters file

Published: Thu 22 Feb 2024, 9:17 PM

The World Health Organisation aims to evacuate more of the roughly 140 patients stranded in Gaza's Nasser hospital, where Palestinian officials said bodies of dead patients had begun to decompose amid power cuts and fighting.

The WHO and partners have so far carried out three evacuations from the hospital in Khan Younis, the latest on Wednesday, transferring 51 patients to southern Gaza, the UN agency's Ayadil Saparbekov said at a press briefing on Thursday.

The WHO says the hospital, Gaza's second-largest and crucial to the territory's crippled health services, stopped working last week after a week-long Israeli siege followed by a raid.

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"The WHO will continue to try evacuation of those critically ill and critically wounded patients from the Nasser hospital to other hospitals in the south, including the field hospitals that have been established in Rafah," Saparbekov said.

"However it's a very difficult and high risk mission."

The numbers of patients remaining in Nasser hospital had been changing by the hour as some people left to escape the fighting and others succumbed to their wounds, Saparbekov said.

Gaza's health ministry had said on Wednesday that 110 patients were waiting to be evacuated. It said eight patients at Nasser had died due to the lack of power and oxygen four days previously and that their bodies had begun to decompose, posing a risk to other patients.

When the WHO carried out the evacuation, it observed four doctors and nurses at Nasser hospital along with about a dozen volunteers helping medical staff keep patients alive, Saparbekov said.

There was no food, medical supplies, power or oxygen, and staff had not so far managed to reconnect the main generator.

Four and a half months after Israel began its campaign in Gaza in retaliation for a major Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, just 13 of the Palestinian enclave's 34 hospitals are functioning on a partial or minimal level.

Gaza's population of 2.3 million faces acute hunger and the spread of disease in a humanitarian crisis that aid officials describe as unprecedented.

Most Gaza residents have been displaced and are crammed into the south of the strip around Rafah, close to the border with Egypt.

Israel says Hamas, the group that has run Gaza since 2007, uses hospitals for cover. Hamas denies this and says Israel's allegations serve as a pretext to destroy the healthcare system.


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