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After Al-Ahli Hospital Blast Kills 500, Gaza Doctor Fears for His Life & Safety of His Patients

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Image Credit: dpa via Reuters Connect

Medical workers in Gaza are racing to treat survivors of a massive explosion Tuesday at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, where displaced people were sheltering from Israel’s unrelenting attacks when, Palestinian officials say, an Israeli airstrike hit the compound, killing hundreds of people. Israel denied responsibility, blaming a failed rocket launch by militants for the blast. Israeli strikes had already damaged the hospital once before, and have killed medical workers and struck other medical facilities since it started bombing Gaza in retaliation for a deadly Hamas raid into Israel on October 7. “As a physician, I’m afraid if I now leave and go to work, my hospital is going to be hit, as well,” says Dr. Hammam Alloh, an internal medicine and nephrology specialist at Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, which is the largest hospital in Gaza. He describes how “almost 40,000” people are seeking refuge outside of hospital buildings in Gaza.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian officials are accusing Israel of killing over 500 people in an airstrike on a hospital in Gaza City where thousands of civilians had sought refuge. Israel has denied responsibility, claiming the explosion was caused by a failed rocket fired by the militant group Islamic Jihad. Palestinian officials have blasted Israel’s claim, pointing out Israeli military had already hit the hospital just days before.

This is Dr. Fadel Naim, head of the orthopedic surgery department at Al-Ahli Hospital.

DR. FADEL NAIM: [translated] I will describe what I saw myself. I was in the surgery department, and I had just finished a surgery, and I was about to rest before my next surgery. Suddenly we heard the sound of a huge explosion. In the beginning, we thought it was one of the explosions we hear all the time. We didn’t think it was in the hospital. Then people came to the surgery department screaming and yelling, asking us to save them, telling us they were injured and dead people. It was a shock for everyone. The hospital was full of dead people, injured people and body parts. People were crying and screaming. We tried to give first aid, but there were more injuries than we could handle with our limited resources at the hospital. Many people were martyred. Some of them were alive. We saw them alive and breathing, but we could not do anything for them. They died in our arms. We saw them.

AMY GOODMAN: The blast came just hours before President Biden landed in Israel for an unprecedented wartime visit to Israel, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express U.S. support for Israel. Biden placed the blame for the hospital strike on Palestinians.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday. And based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden said it appears “it was done by the other team, not you.”

Earlier today, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: [I call] for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to provide sufficient time and space to help realize my two appeals and to ease the epic human suffering we are witnessing. Too many lives and the fate of the entire region hang on the balance.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday night, Democracy Now!'s Messiah Rhodes spoke with Dr. Hammam Alloh, an internal medicine and nephrology specialist working in Gaza City at the largest hospital, Al-Shifa, which is around five miles away from Al-Ahli Hospital, where over 500 Palestinians died in an airstrike. Dr. Alloh said an earlier Israeli airstrike had hit Al-Ahli Hospital days before Tuesday's devastating blast.

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: This is a Baptist hospital — am I clear enough? — a Baptist hospital. This is definitely something not related to Islam or to whatever extremist, extremist group some people consider. So, it is a very old hospital, aged more than 100 years. So, it is situated in a very densely populated area. It was hit the day before, but patients, refugees and staff couldn’t simply leave the hospital. So it was —

MESSIAH RHODES: So, you’re saying that the hospital was hit before?

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was. And then, when it was finally hit again, the death toll is rising now to more than 800 lives lost. And what if this is going to happen in other hospitals, in bigger hospitals? The massacre is going to be worse. There will be no safe shelter for all patients. As a physician, I’m afraid if I now leave and go to work, my hospital is going to be hit, as well. And we have — for example, in terms of dialysis, we have only now five hospitals providing hemodialysis service. What if nurses are afraid of going there? What if patients are afraid of going there? What if injured patients, war injured, with war-related injuries, do not go there? This means not slow; this is even fast death, very rapid death.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hammam Alloh went on to describe how tens of thousands of civilians have sought refuge at the hospitals in Gaza.

DR. HAMMAM ALLOH: In Al-Shifa Hospital, there are almost 40,000 persons in the — outside the hospital buildings. They came looking for safer shelter away from their high-risk areas. Those are in addition to the patients now living in the hospital hallways. Wherever you go, no matter what part you go to, there are a lot of people sleeping — kids, women, ladies, elderly patients. Some of them are immunosuppressed. They are living in the hospital hallways, so you can barely even walk through the hallway because of people actually living there for more than a week. And you can’t just simply ask them to leave so you can walk freely, because they have no safer shelter. And many of those lost their homes now, so this is their new home.

So, if you could imagine the amount and the magnitude of transmissible diseases and infections, speaking of which, yesterday I met the first patient with a disease called leptospirosis. This is a bad disease that we usually get from poorly hygienic living circumstances, transmitted by rodents and sewage water and dirty drinking water. So, this disease affects badly our kidneys and liver. The patient is in a state of acute renal failure, acute kidney injury. His whole life is threatened. And this is because he was in an UNRWA school as a shelter, but those schools are now very busy, with very unlivable living circumstances. But he had to be there with his family looking for safer shelter away from his threatened house.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. Hammam Alloh, an internal medicine and nephrology specialist working in Gaza City at Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest.

When we come back, we speak to Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi. Stay with us.

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Rashid Khalidi on Biden’s “Israel-First Approach” & Growing Outrage over Gaza Across the Middle East

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