Rafah hospital braces for casualty influx as Israel readies Gaza push

By Hatem Khaled

RAFAH, Gaza (Reuters) - The Kuwaiti Speciality Hospital is one of the few places in Rafah the wounded or dying can turn for care, but that role may come under unbearable pressure if Israel launches a full-scale advance into the southern Gaza city, doctors there say.

Israeli forces are bearing down on Rafah as part of their drive to eradicate Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, despite warnings this could result in mass casualties in an area where displaced civilians have found shelter.

Staff at the Speciality Hospital say they fear such an assault would produce a crush of new patients that would overwhelm exhausted doctors, who already complain of shortages of medicine and proper equipment.

"We have been here from the start of the war until now, and I do hope they will not target us, they will not threaten us," said doctor Jamal al-Hams.

"I do hope the whole medical team will continue to present its services to the injured people, to the critically ill patients, to the people who have chronic diseases," he added.

As ambulances stood by at the hospital gates, plumes of smoke rose into the air nearby.

Gaza's medical system has virtually collapsed under Israeli bombardment, which began after a Hamas-led attack on the country on Oct. 7 when gunmen killed over 1,200 people and took over 250 hostage, triggering an Israeli military onslaught in response.

The Israeli campaign has killed over 35,000 Palestinians and wounded over 75,000, Gaza health authorities say. Doctors complain they have to perform surgery, including amputations, with no anaesthetics or pain killers.

Palestinian Abdelilah Farhat, a patient at the hospital, said he had survived a brush with death while he was out looking for a grocery store that was open.


"Thank God, he had it fated that I would get injured, and he saved me. The rocket fell only one meter away from a man," he said.

"They (Israelis) dropped a rocket on civilians just walking - they were just looking for food to eat," he said.

Witnesses and medical professionals said Israeli troops have attacked hospitals, blockaded them and killed doctors and other civilians there. Israel denies such allegations and says it goes to great lengths to protect civilians.

It says hospitals in Gaza are used by Hamas as bases, and has released videos and pictures supporting the assertion. Hamas and medical staff deny this.

The closure of the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt has deepened the anxiety and trauma for patients desperate for medical attention abroad.

It has been a main conduit for humanitarian aid entering the enclave, a medical supply route and exit point for medical evacuees seeking treatment outside the besieged territory.

Israel said on May 7 it had taken operational control of the crossing, vowing it would not compromise on preventing Hamas having any future role there.

"The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza was before May 6," World Health Organisation spokesperson Tarik Jašarević said at a U.N. press briefing on Friday.

"We don't have fuel; we have hospitals that are under evacuation order; we have a situation where we cannot move physically."

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by William Maclean)