Gaza Hospitals 'Overwhelmed' by Wounded From IDF Strikes

Critical shortages plagued hospitals before attacks; reports say patients being turned away at Gaza hospitals.

Since the start of Saturday's aerial offensive, the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza has reached approximately 340 and the number of wounded passed the 1,000 mark. Every hour the list of killed and wounded grows amid the constant bombardment.

The health system in Gaza has suffered severe damage in recent years due to the blockade and embargo put in place by both Israel and the international community. In recent days it has also been forced to deal with an unprecedented volume of wounded, many of them in serious condition, and a growing lack of medical equipment and medicine, insufficient doctors and the inability to carry out certain medical procedures.

A severe shortage of critical medical equipment has also emerged. Information received from Physicians for Human Rights indicates operations are being performed without anesthesia, and surgical gloves, gauze, sterile equipment and oxygen have run out. Needles, stretchers and hospital beds are already in short supply.

The 13 government hospitals in Gaza have 1,500 beds and those patients who had been hospitalized long-term, including cancer and heart patients, are already being sent home. Shifa Hospital has reportedly begun turning away pregnant women about to give birth.

Since Saturday, 12 operating rooms at Shifa have been working around the clock with full medical staffs. Fourteen non-government hospitals and clinics have another 500 rooms, where the wounded are currently being treated.

Further, nearly half of the ambulances in Gaza are inactive, whether caught in the aerial bombardment or due to mechanical problems that cannot be repaired given the lack of spare parts.

Even before the aerial offensive, some 105 medications for chronic and acute conditions had already run out across Gaza due to the Israeli closure and the dispute between the Health Ministry in Ramallah and its counterpart in the Strip. Monday the Ramallah office sent three trucks of equipment and medication in hope Israel would open one of the crossings to the Strip.

Gaza's central medicine depot, which primarily serves Shifa Hospital, was severely damaged by the assault on Palestine Stadium, according to information released by the physicians' association and Mizan, a Palestinian human rights organization, and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. The high volume of wounded means the names of many patients have yet to be released.

The chronically ill, many of whom need treatment outside of Gaza, have been unable to leave since Saturday. On December 25 the Palestinian Health Ministry asked Israeli authorities to let 21 Gaza residents receive treatment in Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Six were given permission to leave Gaza on Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, Egypt announced it would accept Gazans wounded by air strikes, but as of last night had yet to receive any. This failure is due to three reasons: would-be patients' fear of coming under bombardment en route, the serious condition of some of the wounded and the lack of coordination between Egyptian and Palestinian authorities.