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‘I saw appalling atrocities’, say medics who were in Gaza

An international team of volunteer medics who served in Gaza has arrived in the United States to press for urgent action to end the war.

Speaking to reporters at United Nations headquarters, the doctors said they had held meetings with UN member states, including Ireland, and were due to travel to Washington DC to relay their “eyewitness testimony” to US administration officials and members of Congress.

Professor Nick Maynard, an Oxford-based surgeon, said he had been to Gaza many times over 15 years but was “not remotely prepared” for what he encountered on his most recent trip there in late December.

He said he still woke up at night thinking of what he saw at Al Aqsa hospital.

“I saw the most appalling atrocities,” he said, adding “things that I never would have expected to have seen in any healthcare setting”.

He recounted a story of one child he treated, who had suffered such severe burns that her facial bones were visible.

“We knew there was no chance of her surviving that but there was no morphine to give her,” he said.

“So not only was she inevitably going to die, but she would die in agony,” he said.

“And what made it even worse, that there was nowhere for her to go, so she was just left on the floor of the emergency department to die,” he told RTÉ News.

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Prof Nick Maynard (R) treats an injured child at Al Aqsa Hospital, Gaza, in January

Asked about a ground invasion of Rafah that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with in a bid to eliminate Hamas, Prof Maynard said it would be “apocalyptic.”

He told reporters there was “no doubt in his mind” that what was going on in Gaza amounted to genocide according to any definition that he had read but it was up to the International Court of Justice to make that determination.

Dr Thaer Ahmad, a Palestinian-American emergency medicine physician, showed reporters some of the items – a baby’s nappy and a child’s inhaler – that people in Gaza were not able to source.

Holding up a tiny bottle of sedative, Dr Ahmad, who spent two weeks serving in Nasser hospital in January, said that it could be used for patients when trying to reset fractures or clean burns.

“It’s an incredibly painful process,” Dr Ahmad said, “and this is something that can help – something this small – but we’re not able to get into the Gaza Strip because the trucks are stalled”.

Doctors were faced with “horrific decisions” Dr Amber Alayyan of Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told reporters, of having to intubate and perform amputations on children and adults without anaesthetic.

She said the longer the war goes on, the longer the wounds of the injured will rot, due to constant displacement and a lack of basic supplies.

Dr Alayyan said pregnant and lactating women and children under two years old were the most vulnerable.

“What we’re talking about is women who are squeezing dates into handkerchiefs, into tissues and drip feeding their children with some sort of sugary substance to nourish them,” she said.

Aid agencies have accused Israel of blocking humanitarian deliveries to Gaza, which Israel has denied.

Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Israel’s restrictions on aid into Gaza may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which, he said, would be a war crime.

Dr Zaher Sahloul (R) and Dr Mahmoud examine a patient’s X-ray at Nasser Hospital in Gaza

Dr Zaher Sahloul, a critical care specialist, said he hoped they would be able to bring home the reality of what’s happening in Gaza when they visit lawmakers in Washington DC this week.

“One out of 100 children in Gaza has been killed,” he told reporters.

“The equivalent of that in the United States would be half a million children killed,” he said.

Dr Sahloul said he wanted to instill a sense of urgency about the situation.

“Gaza is reaching a tipping point where the shortage of food, water, fuel, medicine and medical supplies and also the collapse of the healthcare system is causing accelerated death among people who are innocent,” he told reporters.

He added that he believed that the only country that could influence the situation was the United States of America.

“By talking to the National Security Council, members of the Congress and the State Department, we want to make sure that they know what we know,” he said.

Dr Sahloul told reporters that in Gaza he had experienced flashbacks to scenes he previously witnessed in Syria, including parents trying to pull their children from the rubble with their bare hands because there was no machinery or fuel.

“And then fathers and mothers carrying what is left of their child’s remains and screaming to the world,” he said.

“These things stay with you for the rest of your life,” he added.


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