Huddled under makeshift canvas shelters in the parking lot, sleeping in corridors or on landings, spending daylight hours in stairwells, hanging laundry from the ceiling – thousands of displaced Gazans fill every space at Al Shifa Hospital.
The main hospital in Gaza City has turned into a huge shelter for people whose homes have been bombed or who fear being caught in Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip, which is entering its second month.
“We ran from our home because of the heavy airstrikes,” said Umm Haitham Hejela, a woman sheltering with young children in a makeshift tent made of cloth, string and mats.
“The situation is getting worse day by day,” he said. “There is no food, there is no water. When my son goes to get water, he queues for three to four hours in line. They hit ovens, we have no bread.”
Also read: Gaza surgeons operate in corridors as Israeli bombs fill hospitals
Reuters reporters who visited the hospital on Tuesday saw people lying on both sides of the corridors, leaving only a narrow space to walk, personal belongings stored on stairs and on windowsills and piles of garbage bags. The overwhelming impression was of overcrowding.
The situation is not unique to Al Shifa. The World Health Organization estimates that 122,000 displaced Gazans have taken refuge in hospitals, churches and other public buildings across the Strip, with another 827,000 in schools.
The war was sparked by an October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants that killed 1,400 people and took another 240 hostage. In response, Israel launched an air, sea and ground offensive against Hamas, which has killed more than 10,000 people in the densely populated coastal strip, according to officials in Gaza.
“From fear to fear”
For hospitals, the displacement crisis is exacerbating an already devastating situation, with shortages of medical supplies and electricity as huge numbers of critically injured patients arrive every day. Staff are resorting to desperate measures such as surgery without anaesthetics.
In Al Shifa, displaced people said they had come to seek safety but did not feel safe because of nearby airstrikes and the approaching Israeli army. Israel said its forces had surrounded Gaza City.
The Israeli military has accused the Islamist movement Hamas of hiding tunnel entrances and operational centers inside Al Shifa, which Hamas has denied.
“We have run from fear to fear,” said Um Lama, a grieving mother housed in a hallway with several children and older relatives.
Lama’s daughter was among those killed in an attack on an ambulance just outside the hospital gate on Friday. The hospital director said 15 people were killed and 60 injured.
Israel said it targeted an ambulance carrying Hamas fighters. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said the ambulance was one of a convoy of five trying to evacuate the seriously injured.
Read: Israel hits ambulance in Gaza City, many killed
“Look at our situation. Is this the life we are living? We have no food, no electricity, no water. We are sleeping in the corridors,” Um Lama said.
Israel has told Gazans still living in the northern part of the strip to move to the south, which is also being bombed but less intensively.
An Israeli military spokesman was asked at a media briefing on Tuesday about reports of stun grenades exploding over Al Shifa overnight.
“I know it happened. There was probably some operational requirement,” he said.
“We’re trying to get people to leave, that’s all I can say about it. Those are the kinds of messages for people to try to get out of there.”
But the women housed in the hospital said that despite the squalid living conditions and fear, they had no intention of leaving as they had nowhere to go and nowhere was safe.
“We are strong. Whatever they do to us, we will not leave Al Shifa. They cut off the water, electricity, no food, but we are strong. We can only eat cookies and nuts. We can eat anything.” he said. Hexela.
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