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Israel-Palestine war: Northern Gaza hospital faces starvation amid Israeli siege

A staff member describes to MEE the situation at al-Awda hospital, where people are trapped and have just a few days of food left
Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to a hospital in central Gaza on 8 December 2023.
Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to a hospital in central Gaza on 8 December 2023 (AP)

At least 250 doctors, patients, and their family members are on the brink of starvation in northern Gaza after Israeli snipers laid siege to al-Awda hospital, shooting to kill anyone who tries to enter the building, leave it, or even anyone veering too close to a window.

A staff member inside al-Awda has given a first-hand account to Middle East Eye of the dire conditions inside the hospital, where people have enough food to last only a few days, and have nowhere to escape to.

"We are at al-Awda hospital in the northern area, and have been under siege for four days. No one can move or enter or leave the hospital," said Mohammed, the staff member, who asked not to use his full name.

The Israeli snipers surrounding the hospital have essentially turned the Palestinians inside into hostages until the hospital's food and water run out, he said, and are not just blockading all exits and entrances but are also shooting at anyone seen to move.

Aside from the snipers, Mohammed said, Israeli tanks were within 50 to 70 metres of the hospital. If the siege continues, the hospital would run out of food in just a matter of days, he said.

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"We have food only for three days. Water for two days. Fuel for four days. But today the generator will stop because no one can move to fill it with fuel. So the running water will stop," he said.

On Saturday morning, Israeli forces began attacking the hospital's water tanks, according to Mohammed. 

In a recording sent to The Hill, he said that the people under siege are "only eating one meal a day".

As of just over a week ago, al-Awda hospital was the only functioning hospital that was providing medical services to pregnant women in northern Gaza. Mohammed described the situation as bleak, with the hospital filled with wounded Palestinians as well as new mothers with their infant children.

Mohammed said there are two women with infants and 38 wounded people among the 250 people at the hospital.

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Gaza's healthcare infrastructure is on the verge of collapse as Israel continues its military operations in the besieged enclave.

Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN special rapporteur on the right to health, said on Thursday that Israel has declared an "unrelenting war" on Gaza's medical system.

MEE reached out to the Israeli military spokesperson's office for comment as to why the siege of al-Awda was taking place but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Death by starvation, or death by bullet

If the Palestinians inside al-Awda stay alive in spite of the food and water shortages, they could still face death at the trigger of an Israeli sniper posted outside. Already one of Mohammed's fellow staff members has been killed by sniper fire.

"Yesterday the sniper killed our colleague when he stood at a window," Mohammed said.

'Yesterday the sniper killed our colleague when he stood at a window'

- Mohammed, al-Awda hospital, northern Gaza

He added that the son of a colleague was also shot, but doctors were able to save his life, but on Friday night, a cleaner was shot through a window and killed.

On the first day of the siege, an Israeli sniper shot and killed a woman who tried to enter the hospital's maternity ward.

Her body remains on the street outside, with no one able to retrieve it due to the threat of being shot dead themselves.

Al-Awda hospital has been attacked by Israel more than once since war broke out between Israel and Hamas on 7 October.

On 21 November, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that three doctors, including two MSF staff, were killed in a strike on the hospital. While the organisation did not name who was responsible for the bombing, that same day the Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that an Israeli strike killed at least four doctors at al-Awda.

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One of the MSF doctors who was killed, Mahmoud Abu Nujaila, had written on a white board inside the hospital on 20 October: "We did what we could. Remember us."

According to UN data, there have been at least 364 attacks on healthcare services in the Palestinian territories since 7 October. In those attacks, at least 553 people were killed and 729 wounded. More than 50 health facilities and nearly 200 ambulances have also been affected.

Nearly 17,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, with many thousands more missing and presumed dead.

Israel has laid siege to several hospitals in Gaza since the war began, including al-Shifa hospital, the largest medical complex in Gaza, and Rantisi hospital, both in Gaza City in the north.

The sieges are often followed by raids, which have left multiple hospitals in ruins after Israeli forces retreated from them.

"We are an independent NGO hospital and working to serve the people. I don't know why we are being targeted," Mohammed said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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