A man carries a girl injured in Israeli strikes on Bureij, at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al Balah in the central Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

GENEVA: More people will die in Gaza because medical evacuations from the Palestinian territory have halted since Israel launched its offensive in Rafah three weeks ago, the World Health Organisation said Tuesday.

The WHO has long been pleaded with Israel to allow more critically ill and wounded people to leave Gaza.

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Thousands of Gazans are estimated to require urgent medical evacuation but few have been able to leave the besieged territory since war on October 7 after the Hamas attacks on Israel.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that since Israel launched a military offensive in the densely crowded southern city of Rafah in early May, “there’s been an abrupt halt to all medical evacuations”.

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She warned that the cut-off obviously meant more people will die waiting for treatment.

Before October 7, between 50 and 100 people left the enclave every day for treatment not available in the territory, including for cancer.

“Those people didn’t go away simply because conflict started, so they all still need a referral,” Harris told reporters in Geneva.

Since services in Gaza have been disastrously disrupted by the conflict, far more people need to leave for treatment they used to access inside Gaza, like chemotherapy or dialysis, she said.

In addition, thousands now need to evacuate after suffering severe injuries in the war.

“If they don’t get the treatment sadly they die,” she commented.

10,000 waiting

The Gaza war began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Palestinian militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

WHO estimates that there are now typically “around 10,000 people who need to be evacuated... to receive the much-needed medical treatment elsewhere”, Harris said.

They include more than 6,000 trauma-related patients and at least 2,000 patients with chronic conditions, like cancer, she said.

Since medical evacuations halted on May 8, an additional 1,000 critically ill and wounded patients have been added to that list, Harris said.

Before the cut-off, WHO had received approval from Israel for 5,800 medical evacuations - about half of the number it had requested since the war began.

Of the 5,800, only 4,900 patients had been able to leave, Harris said.

Without treatment ‘you die’

Even more people require medical evacuation after an Israeli strike set fire to a displacement camp in Rafah on Sunday killing 45 people. Hundreds of civilians were left with shrapnel and burn wounds, according to Gaza officials and medics.

Harris pointed out that severe burns require “very, very complex treatment”, and “if you don’t get that treatment, you die”.

The charred carnage, blackened corpses and children being rushed to hospitals after Sunday’s strike has caused global outcry. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the deaths were a “tragic accident”.

James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, dismissed that assertion.

“I guess the question is what then to call the ferocious attacks that have killed thousands and thousands of children ... (or) the countless children who have had arms and legs amputated or the thousands who have been orphaned?” he asked.

“I think surely the question that needs to be asked is how many more mistakes is the world going to tolerate?”