Smoke rises after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Gaza: Hundreds of patients desperately needed his help, but now there was nothing he could do.

With Al Ahli hospital shaking from Israeli tank fire and no more anaesthetics left to operate, British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta told his team it was time to leave the last fully functioning hospital in Gaza City.

“It has been a living nightmare - leaving 500 wounded knowing that there’s nothing left for you to be able to do for them, it’s just the most heartbreaking thing I ever had to do,” Abu Sitta told Reuters on Friday, a day after leaving the hospital and walking to Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

In a post on X, he wrote: “No longer able to provide surgeries at Ahli Hosp. The hospital is now effectively a first aid station. Hundreds of wounded now at hospital with no access to surgery. They will die from their wounds.” Israel has ordered the entire northern half of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, to be evacuated as it presses its campaign to wipe out the Hamas group that governs the territory.

All northern hospitals have effectively ceased functioning.

Gaza’s health ministry said that as of Nov. 16 only nine of the enclave’s 35 hospitals were functioning even partially.

Earlier this week, it put the confirmed Palestinian death toll at over 11,500, including at least 4,700 children, but has said communications blackouts throughout the territory have made it impossible to provide regular updates.

Gaza hospitals have been overwhelmed and short of supplies since Israeli forces began their campaign to wipe out Hamas following the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which Israel said killed about 1,200 people.

“Al Ahli was completely inundated with wounded. And we were operating all through the night (on Wednesday),” Abu Sitta said in an internet call. “And by the early hours (of Thursday)... we realised that we have basically run out of medication for the anaesthetic machines and we had to stop the operating room.”

“Inundated and wounded”

Abu Sitta said he and his team had been particularly busy in the past weeks treating patients after an Israeli air strike on a nearby mosque, and after Israeli forces surrounded and then entered Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al Shifa.

gaza wounded
Palestinians wounded in the ongoing Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive to a hospital in Khan Younis on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Abu Sitta said a message had been received at Al Ahli hospital saying it had been surrounded by Israeli tanks.

Reuters could not immediately verify the situation at and around Al Ahli. Israel’s military says Hamas has tunnels and command centres beneath and adjacent to some hospitals, a charge Hamas denies.

Hamas’ armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, said on Friday that no hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack were being held at hospitals but were taken to care centres for treatment due to the seriousness of their condition and to save their lives.

On the five-hour walk from Al Ahli to the refugee camp, Abu Sitta said he saw “scenes of destruction” and bodies lying on the street.

He said patients needing treatment remained at Al Ahli, and that another hospital in northern Gaza had been unable to take them.

“Basically, the whole of northern Gaza now has no functioning hospital,” he said.

His immediate plan is to rest.

“We’ve been operating non-stop for the last week since Al Shifa (was surrounded). I just made the decision that I needed to sleep, until I figure out what I wanted to do next,” he said.