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Israeli campaign against Gaza further strains already fragile health sector

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip announced that the only COVID-19 laboratory in the coastal enclave has gone out of service as a result of the Israeli aggression that wreaked havoc on the health sector.
A Palestinian child who was wounded in overnight Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, receives treatment at Al-Shifa Hospital on May 19, 2021 in Gaza City, Gaza.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip recently announced that the only central laboratory for coronavirus tests in the coastal enclave has ceased to operate amid the Israeli shells that targeted the Health Ministry building, and Al-Rimal clinic on Al-Wehda Street in central Gaza City. 

Speaking at a May 17 press conference, the ministry’s undersecretary, Youssef Abu al-Rish, said that the Israeli shells interrupted phone medical consultation services for coronavirus patients as several of the medical personnel were wounded, one suffering a serious injury to the head. 

The damage to the ministry’s building and Al-Rimal clinic is “a heinous crime aimed at preventing the ministry from carrying out its humanitarian work in saving lives and providing health care to citizens,” Abu al-Rish said. 

On May 17, Israel renewed its bombing of Al-Wehda Street, targeting residential buildings, the Health Ministry building and Al-Rimal clinic, which killed a man and his infant daughter, and wounded dozens of civilians and health personnel. This is not to mention the severe damage to the bombed buildings, notably the ministry and the clinic. 

On May 16, Israel had launched airstrikes, pounding Al-Wehda Street, damaging three nearby residential units and killing 42 Palestinian civilians including women and children, in a crime that is seen as the bloodiest since the start of the military aggression on the coastal enclave on May 10.

The round of violence was sparked when the Palestinian resistance factions fired hundreds of rockets toward Israel on May 10, in response to the Israeli Police storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and attempts to forcibly evict Palestinian residents from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

On May 21, an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hamas entered into force. But efforts to rebuild what has been destroyed by Israeli shelling in the besieged enclave remains elusive so far. 

Majed Salha, a medical doctor, was busy inside his office at Al-Rimal clinic answering phone calls for medical consultations from COVID-19 patients, when he suffered a serious head injury by a piece of shrapnel. He was transported to the intensive care unit at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

“It was a regular busy day during which we provided medical consultations over the phone for people infected with the coronavirus. Everything was going smoothly until the terrible bombing that injured several personnel with varying wounds,” Mohammad al-Ajlah, a worker at Al-Rimal clinic who was present at the time of the attack, told Al-Monitor. 

As a result of the colossal damage to the surrounding streets, paramedics and ambulances were late to arrive on the scene to aid the injured who had been bleeding for a long time.

Majdi Daher, director of the Preventive Medicine Department at the Health Ministry in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The Israeli aggression is pushing Gaza into the third wave of the pandemic.” 

He said that the military offensive has caused the displacement of more than 50,000 residents from the northern and eastern border areas to seek refuge in schools, which have become crammed with civilians, some of whom are infected with the coronavirus. This contributed to the increase in the number of infected cases, which reached 30% of the total samples that were last tested at the laboratory before it halted its operations.

“The Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip has killed 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, 39 women and 17 elderly people, and injured more than 1,700 others,” Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told Al-Monitor. 

He said that 55 wounded people are in a critical condition, with 400 people suffering from wounds in the upper body, including 153 head injuries. Among the 1,700 wounded, 470 are children and 310 are women.

“Houses fell over the heads of their residents in massacres that claimed the lives of entire families,” Qidra said. 

He noted that 24 health institutions were heavily damaged in the relentless Israeli bombardment that injured several health personnel.

Qidra noted that the colossal damages to the electrical power lines caused additional challenges to the health sector in Gaza, as several departments are no longer able to operate at full capacity, which could damage medical equipment and sensitive medicines as well as the COVID-19 vaccines that should be stored at cold temperatures. 

The deteriorating circumstances of medical facilities “will result in a health disaster as hospitals could reach their full capacity and would no longer be able to accommodate the injured,” he added. 

Munir al-Bursh, director general of the General Administration of Pharmacy at the Health Ministry, told Al-Monitor, “As a result of the relentless bombardment, there has been an increase in drug shortages by 43% of the total stock, and 33% of the total medical consumables stocks.” 

On May 15, the Ramallah Health Ministry announced that it had sent a shipment of medical aid to various hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including blood units. With the support of the World Health Organization, several other countries followed suit. 

On May 17, Egypt announced that it had dispatched 65 tons of medicines and medical supplies in the Gaza Strip, and that 11 Egyptian hospitals had been equipped to receive the injured.

On the same day, trucks loaded with medical aid from Jordan arrived in the coastal enclave. Jordan is also preparing to operate three mobile hospitals to provide medical services and to relieve pressure on hospitals in Gaza. 

On May 19, Morocco sent 40 tons of food and medical aid to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

While the director general of International Cooperation at the Health Ministry, Abd al-Latif al-Hajj, thanked these countries for their support in emergency aid, he told Al-Monitor that it is not enough to contain the situation. 

He called on the international community and charitable institutions to donate $46 million necessary to meet the urgent health needs in terms of medicines, medical consumables, operating and intensive care equipment, surgical tools, diagnostic X-ray machines and laboratories to ensure that health services continue to be provided.

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