GENEVA: The World Health Organization said on Saturday that forcing thousands of hospital patients to evacuate to already overflowing hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip could be “tantamount to a death sentence”.
Israel has warned Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza ahead of an expected ground offensive against Hamas, one week after the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.
“WHO strongly condemns Israel’s repeated orders for the evacuation of 22 hospitals treating more than 2,000 inpatients in northern Gaza,” the United Nations health agency said in a statement.
“The forced evacuation of patients and health workers will further worsen the current humanitarian and public health catastrophe.”
Moving 2,000 patients to southern Gaza, “where health facilities are already running at maximum capacity and unable to absorb a dramatic rise in the number of patients, could be tantamount to a death sentence,” the WHO said.
The organisation said the lives of many critically ill and fragile patients now “hang in the balance”. It referred to people in intensive care or relying on life support, newborns in incubators, patients undergoing haemodialysis, and women with pregnancy complications.
They and others “all face imminent deterioration of their condition or death if they are forced to move and are cut off from life-saving medical attention while being evacuated”, the WHO said.
Israel pummelled northern Gaza with fresh air strikes on Saturday before an expected ground offensive against Hamas commanders.
A week of Israeli salvos was sparked by the Islamist fighters’ dawn raid, which saw them break through the heavily fortified border and gun down, stab, and burn to death more than 1,300 people.
In Gaza, health officials said more than 2,200 people had been killed. As on the Israeli side, most of them were civilians.
The WHO said health workers in northern Gaza were now facing an “agonising choice” between abandoning critically ill patients, putting their own lives at risk by remaining on-site, or endangering their patients’ lives while trying to transport them to southern hospitals “that have no capacity to receive them”.
“Overwhelmingly, caregivers have chosen to stay behind and honour their oaths as health professionals to ‘do no harm’,” the WHO said.
“Health workers should never have to make such impossible choices.”