12 October 2023

Morgue at Gaza’s biggest hospital overflows as Israeli attacks intensify

12 October 2023

The morgue at Gaza’s biggest hospital overflowed on Thursday as bodies came in faster than relatives could claim them, on the sixth day of Israel’s heavy aerial bombardment on the territory of 2.3 million people.

With scores of Palestinians killed each day in the Israeli onslaught after an unprecedented Hamas attack, medics in the besieged enclave said they ran out of places to put remains pulled from the latest strikes or recovered from under the ruins of demolished buildings.

The morgue at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital can only handle some 30 bodies at a time, and workers had to stack corpses three high outside the walk-in cooler and put dozens more, side by side, in the car park.

“The body bags started and just kept coming and coming and now it’s a graveyard,” Abu Elias Shobaki, a nurse at Shifa, said of the car park.

“I am emotionally, physically exhausted. I just have to stop myself from thinking about how much worse it will get.”

Nearly a week after Hamas militants crossed through Israel’s highly fortified separation fence and killed more than 1,200 Israelis in a brutal rampage, Israel is preparing for a possible ground invasion of Gaza for the first time in nearly a decade.

A ground offensive would be likely to drive up the Palestinian death toll, which already has outpaced the past four bloody wars between Israel and Hamas.

Already, the sheer volume of human remains has pushed the system to its limit in the long-blockaded territory.

Gaza’s hospitals are poorly supplied in quiet times but now Israel has stopped the water flow from its national water company and blocked even electricity, food and fuel from entering the coastal enclave.

“We are in a critical situation,” said Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry.

“Ambulances can’t get to the wounded, the wounded can’t get to intensive care, the dead can’t get to the morgue.”

Lines of white body bags, soles of bare feet sticking out from one, a bloodied arm from another, brought the scale and intensity of Israel’s retaliation on Gaza into sharp relief.

Israel’s campaign on Gaza has levelled entire neighbourhoods, killing more han 1,400 people – over 60% of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

More than 340,000 have been displaced, or 15% of Gaza’s population.

The Israeli military says it is striking Hamas militant infrastructure and aims to avoid civilian casualties, a claim that Palestinians reject.

Those deaths, and more than 6,000 injuries, have overwhelmed Gaza’s health care facilities as supplies dwindle.

“It is not possible, under any circumstances, to continue this work,” said Mohammad Abu Selim, the general director of Shifa.

“The patients are now on the streets. The wounded are on the streets. We cannot find a bed for them.”

After the heavy bombing of the Shati refugee camp just north of Gaza City along the Mediterranean coast on Thursday, a new wave of people streamed into the hospital complex – toddlers with bruises and bandages, men with makeshift tourniquets, young girls with blood caked on their faces.

Because Shifa’s intensive care unit was full, some of the wounded lay in the hospital corridors, pressing up against the walls to clear aisles for staff and stretchers.

Making matters worse, Gaza’s sole power plant ran out of fuel on Wednesday.

Shifa and other hospitals are desperately trying to save whatever diesel remains in their backup generators, turning off the lights in all hospital departments but the most essential – intensive care, operating rooms, oxygen stations.

Abu Selima, director of Shifa, said the last of the hospital’s fuel would run out in three or four days.

When that happens, “a disaster will occur within five minutes”, said Naser Bolbol, head of the hospital’s nursery department, citing all the oxygen equipment keeping infants alive.

Hospital authorities said there would not be electricity left to refrigerate the dead, either.

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