10/18/2023, 20.34
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Slaughter at Gaza’s hospital of sharing

Israelis blame Islamic Jihad and Palestinians who blame Israel for the blast that devastated one of Gaza’s few remaining functioning hospitals. Founded in 1882 and run by Anglicans, the Al Ahli Arab Hospital was considered an oasis of peace and solidarity, but above all, a place of medical care - in times of war and truce - open to all. Hundreds have died and its future is now uncertain. “The devastation,” the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem laments, “strikes at the very core of human decency.”


Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The attack on Gaza’s aper-Ahli Arab Hospital, a medical facility run by the Anglican Church, is “an appalling and devastating loss of innocent lives,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby.

Following yesterday evening’s strike that killed hundreds, another low point in the latest war that is shedding blood in the Middle East, the Primate of All England tweeted on X: “I renew my appeal for civilians to be protected in this devastating war.”

The al-Ahli Arab Hospital (Arab People's Hospital in Arabic), which is run and entirely funded by the Anglican Church, has no military function. It is independent of any political group and is open to everyone in Gaza, whose population is mostly Muslim. It was almost hit a few days ago.

"We were operating in the hospital, there was a strong explosion, and the ceiling fell on the operating room. This is a massacre," said Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a Médecins Sans Frontières plastic surgeon who treats people wounded in the war.

Another doctor is quoted as saying that 80 per cent of the hospital is out of service, estimating that 1,000 people had been killed or wounded.

Eileen Spencer, head of the American fundraising arm of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the local branch of the Anglican Communion, told The Washington Post that after the strike Tuesday, “we don’t know if the hospital will still be standing” so as to be back in operation.

In a written statement, the diocese says: “The devastation [. . .] strikes at the very core of human decency” at the end of a day that saw all Christians in the Holy Land engage in “fasting and prayers for peace, reconciliation and an end to the harrowing conflict.”

Quoting from the Second Letter to the Corinthians (“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed), the diocese calls for mourning and prayer in all churches. It also calls on the “international community to fulfil its duty in protecting civilians and ensuring that such inhumane horrific acts are not replicated.”

In a statement, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Jerry Pillay, explicitly calls the attack a "war crime”.

For their part, the two sides are blaming each other for what happened. Arab leaders (and part of world public opinion) accuse Israel. The Israeli military denies any responsibility, pointing the finger at Islamic Jihad; the second largest extremist group in Gaza after Hamas claims that it was not involved in any military operations near the hospital at the time of the blast.

So far, at least 300 people are reported dead; other Palestinian sources put the number at more than 500, not to mention the destruction of one of the few medical facilities able to provide medical care in a context of war.

In a statement, the World Health Organisation (WHO) condemned the hospital attack, which was hit by air strikes on 14 October without serious damages with four wounded. Nothing, compared to the slaughter that took place last night.

The Al Ahli Hospital was one of 20 hospitals in northern Gaza that the Israeli military had ordered evacuated; however, the order, for WHO, is inadmissible.

"The order for evacuation has been impossible to carry out given the current insecurity, critical condition of many patients, and lack of ambulances, staff, health system bed capacity, and alternative shelter for those displaced,” the UN agency said in a statement.

Founded in 1882, the al-Ahli Arab Hospital is located in Gaza City, in the Strip’s northern sector. Before the attack, it occupied a campus with well-kept grounds in the central part of the city and represented a true oasis of peace and solidarity because it was able to provide medical care regardless of faith or ethnicity.

The political status of Gaza affects all aspects of life due to restrictions on the movement of materials and people, the more so now that war is taking place, and the territory has been deprived of electricity with food, water, fuel and medicine beginning to run out.

Despite this, the hospital was always able to ensure emergency care and provide excellent service in the area.

The 80-bed facility normally saw about 3,500 outpatient visits a month, according to the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. It handles about 300 surgeries and some 600 radiological visits a month, and runs a free programme for breast cancer detection for women above 40.

In addition, the Center for Elderly Women and the Mobile Clinic Program provide free medical care and food to people from surrounding towns and villages.

The Hospital had begun to sponsor Gaza’s first physician training for Minimally Invasive Surgery. Plans were in development for adding a Cancer Center featuring radiation treatment.

The hospital also partnered with community organisations to provide much-needed training for local people in counselling, social work, basic first aid and medical aid, and run their own training programmes for graduate and undergraduate youth.

During the 2014 summer attacks on Gaza, the facility opened its doors to family members of the wounded who were desperate and seeking refuge – providing them with food, beds and support – hiring additional staff to respond to the massive need.

During the worst of times, the hospital managed to stay open 24 hours. The surgical team dealt with explosion injuries and traumas, including abdominal injuries, bone and chest injuries and different types of burns. On average, they treated 45 severe burns cases a day as a direct result of the war, 50 pre cent of whom were children.

The war between Israel and Hamas, which broke out on 7 October with the latter’s attack into Israel, is now in its twelfth day and has so far displaced a million people in Gaza, killing more than 3,000 people and wounding another 12,500. According to Save the Children, the dead include a thousand children.

In Israel, 1,400 people have died (including 301 soldiers) with more than 500,000 displaced by rockets that continue to land from Gaza.

Police reported the death of 947 Israeli civilians killed on the first day of Hamas's attack, which represents 70 per cent of all Israeli casualties.

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