An immediate investigation is needed into mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza, which have left six medics dead, said Amnesty International as it released disturbing testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance personnel working in the area.
“The harrowing descriptions by ambulance drivers and other medics of the utterly impossible situation in which they have to work, with bombs and bullets killing or injuring their colleagues as they try to save lives, paint a grim reality of life in Gaza,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“Even more alarming is the mounting evidence that the Israeli army has targeted health facilities or professionals. Such attacks are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes. They only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court.”
Hospitals, doctors and ambulance staff, including those trying to evacuate people injured in Israeli attacks, have come under increased fire since 17 July.
Some medical teams have even been prevented from reaching critical areas altogether, leaving hundreds of injured civilians without access to life-saving help and entire families without assistance in removing the bodies of their loved ones.
Jaber Khalil Abu Rumileh, who supervises ambulance services in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital, told Amnesty International of a shelling attack on the medical facility on 21 July that lasted for half an hour.
“It was 3pm and I was working in the emergency unit. I heard bombing that shook the hospital. It was a shelling that had hit the fourth floor, the pregnancy and caesarean unit. Then there were a few more hits. People were terrified, patients ran out, doctors could not enter to help the injured and remove the dead. Then the third floor was hit and four people were killed. I saw one women come running with the child she just gave birth to. Some women gave birth during the shelling.”
Mohammad Abu Jumiza is partially deaf after suffering head injuries during an attack that took place while he was transferring injured people in his ambulance in Khan Younis on 24 July.
“We were on our way back to Nasser hospital, driving with the lights and sirens on as always. The ambulance was clearly marked as such. The doctor, nurse and I were all wearing medical uniforms. When we reached the Islamic University I heard an explosion right next to us and the front and back windows of the car fell out. As I was turning another missile hit next to us, and then a third one. When the fourth missile hit, I lost control and we crashed, so we ran out of the car and found shelter in a building. Then there were two more missiles fired and some people were injured.”
Dr Bashar Murad, director of Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s (PRCS) emergency and ambulance unit, said that since the conflict started at least two PRCS ambulance workers had been killed, at least 35 had been injured and 17 health vehicles had been left out of service after attacks by the Israeli army.
“Our ambulances are often targeted although they are clearly marked and display all signs that they are ambulances. The army should be able to distinguish from the air that what they targeting are ambulances,” he said.
Ambulance worker Mohammad Al-Abadlah was killed on 25 July. He was in Qarara to help an injured person when he was shot in the hip and chest with gunfire and bled to death. Mohammad was travelling in a visibly marked ambulance and was wearing his medical uniform. Colleagues who approached him to help him were also shot at but were not injured.
A’ed Mustafa Bur’i, another ambulance worker, was burned to death on 25 July in Beit Hanoon after a shell hit the clearly marked vehicle he was travelling in.
Hospitals across the Gaza Strip are also suffering from fuel and power shortages, inadequate water supply, and shortages of essential drugs and medical equipment. Such shortages, already prevalent due to Israel’s seven-year blockade, have been made much worse during the current hostilities.