‘We are completely besieged’: One of last doctors left in Gaza’s Nasser hospital says patients’ fate no longer in his control

Kareem Khadder and Zeena Saifi, CNN

One of the few doctors remaining in Nasser hospital in southern Gaza has described a “desperate and catastrophic” situation one week into the Israeli forces’ siege and raid of the complex.

“We have been without electricity, oxygen, heating, barely any food or water … we are completely besieged,” Dr. Hatem Raba, a general physician from Gaza, told CNN in a telephone interview.

“I am doing my job as a doctor, as a nurse, as a cleaner. I’m treating the patients, feeding them, changing their dressing, talking with them, consoling them as a family member would. I’m exhausted,” he added.

Nasser hospital had been the largest functioning hospital in the enclave before Israeli forces raided it last Thursday after days of intense bombardment.

Only 11 out of 36 hospitals are even partially functioning inside the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr. Ashraf Al-Qidra said last week.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement on Monday that they had apprehended “hundreds” of Hamas militants hiding in Nasser hospital, some of whom the IDF claimed had been posing as medical staff. The IDF also claimed to have found medicines labeled with the names of Israeli hostages during their raid on the medical complex.

CNN cannot independently verify the IDF’s claims.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said the claims were “not true,” adding, “hospitals provide service to civilians in Gaza.”

When Israeli troops raided the complex last Thursday, they ordered doctors and other medical staff to leave the hospital, strip to their underwear and wait in the cold for hours before allowing only five doctors to return and care for the patients, Dr. Hatem told CNN.

“It was a humiliating and degrading moment for me as a doctor in front of my colleagues, in front of my community,” he said.

The IDF did not immediately respond to a CNN question about whether they had forced medical staff to remove their clothes in the cold, but the account is similar to reports from other Gaza hospitals which Israeli troops have entered.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Sunday that around 70 healthcare workers in the medical complex were arrested by Israeli forces and 80 patients had been transferred out of the hospital to an unknown location.

Dr. Hatem said he was one of the five doctors allowed to return and care for the patients.

“Five doctors treating 150 patients, can you imagine this?” Dr. Hatem said. “We just need basic medical treatment for resuscitation, to keep patients alive, that’s all,”

On Tuesday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that it had worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulances to evacuate 21 injured patients from Nasser hospital to two field hospitals in Rafah. On Sunday and Monday, 32 patients in critical condition were evacuated from Nasser hospital, OCHA said.

Dr. Hatem said he had asked the Israeli soldiers to evacuate all the remaining patients to another hospital so they could receive proper treatment, but they refused.

“Patients are dying every day. The situation is very bad and difficult,” he said.

Since the Israeli raid, six of his own patients have died, while 10 remain in the intensive care unit (ICU). On Saturday, a Palestinian surgeon trapped inside Nasser hospital warned that all the ICU patients would die – a grim prospect that Dr. Hatem is anticipating.

“Never in my life have I prayed for a patient to survive, because as a doctor, it is my responsibility to save their life. But now, the fate of my patients is not in my control, because I don’t have sufficient supplies or the equipment I need to care for them. I am praying and weeping,” he said.