A key hospital in central Gaza “must remain functional,” the head of the World Health Organization said Sunday, after several aid organizations withdrew medical staff from the facility citing increased Israeli military activity in the area.
In a statement, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Al-Aqsa Hospital in the city of Deir al-Balah is “the most important hospital remaining in Gaza’s Middle Area,” and demanded the facility, its staff, patients and the families located on its premises be protected from ongoing hostilities.
“Three months into this conflict, it is inconceivable that this most essential need — the protection of health care — is not assured,” he said.
Aid groups Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the emergency medical team of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Sunday announced their withdrawal from Al-Aqsa Hospital after the Israeli military dropped flyers on central Gaza ordering Palestinians to evacuate to “shelters” in the area. Doctors Without Borders on Saturday said it would evacuate its staff working at Al-Aqsa due to artillery fire in the area.
No hospitals are fully functioning in northern Gaza and only “a mere handful” of health facilities elsewhere in the territory were operational, Tedros said in his statement.
He said representatives from WHO and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs who visited Al-Aqsa Hospital on Sunday saw large numbers of wounded people being brought in for urgent treatment.
Tedros said evacuation orders and lack of safety had forced most medical staff to leave. “Tonight’s reports indicate that only 5 doctors remain. Hospital management said health workers had no food,” he said.
CNN is not able to independently confirm the details of his statement. The Israel Defense Forces have said they do not generally target medical facilities but have accused Hamas of using them as cover for military activity and reserve the right to strike them if so.
Tedros said WHO was planning to facilitate the deployment of an emergency medical team to support the overstretched doctors and nurses of Al-Aqsa but that it would only be possible in a secure environment.