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Gaza doctor describes conditions inside his overwhelmed hospital as Israeli forces advance

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A surgeon working inside the European Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, one of the few health facilities still operating in the war-torn Palestinian territory, tells CBS News it's getting harder and harder to care for patients as civilians displaced from elsewhere in the enclave flee to the facility seeking shelter. 

The Israel Defense Forces have mounted a renewed push into the southern city of Khan Younis, where the European Hospital is located, according to the Reuters news agency. The city has been inundated for weeks by thousands of Palestinians displaced from north and central Gaza, as they've been urged by the IDF to seek safety further south. 

Dr. Ahmed El-Mokhallati, a surgeon with dual Irish-Palestinian nationality, told CBS News in a voice message on Friday that "the whole system has collapsed," as overwhelmed staff try to accommodate a fast-rising number of patients and displaced people at the European Hospital. He said he and the thousands of people crowded into the facility can hear the fighting moving closer every night. 

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians take shelter from the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip outside the European Hospital in Khan Younis, Dec. 26, 2023. Hatem Ali/AP

"It's usually a 240-bed capacity," El-Mokhallati told CBS News of the hospital. "We have expanded the capacity to be 370 by opening a field hospital in the parking area. Currently, we have around 1,000 patients in this hospital."

"The medical staff are unable to reach here. The ones who reach here, they are taking the risk of getting stuck at any point. Add to all of this the number of civilians sheltering within the hospital, which was around 20,000, they [staff] started to feel again, it's unsafe," the doctor said.

On Wednesday, CBS News producer Marwan al-Ghoul had reported that a firefight had taken place between IDF and Hamas forces at the Al Nasser Hospital complex, the largest functioning medical facility in Khan Younis, and that Israeli forces had withdrawn to about two miles away from the hospital. 

Israeli attacks continue on Gaza
An injured Palestinian mother and her daughter are brought to Nasser Hospital for treatment following Israeli attacks in Khan Yunis, Gaza on January 19, 2024. Belal Khaled/Anadolu/Getty

The IDF has long maintained that Hamas fighters operate from within Al Nasser.

El-Mokhallati told CBS News that the fighting around Al Nasser had led even more people to flee that facility for his own, smaller hospital, seeking refuge. 

"Nasser Hospital for the last few days was under full blockage and a lot of bombardments and shooting happened around the hospital, which pushed the patients to leave the hospital toward the European Gaza Hospital," he said. "We hear continuous tanks moving near to the hospitals. We hear the continuous bombardments, the gunshots... the bombardments are not far from the hospital."

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The European Hospital, already struggling to cope, has also been left increasingly short-staffed as employees fear being isolated from their families as the IDF advances. 

"The medical staff feel totally insecure and unsafe to travel to the hospital, leaving their families," El-Mokhallati said, "because at any point, the Israeli tanks and the IDF can come very close to the hospital and keep the hospital totally isolated from the rest of the south of Gaza." 

"The situation is literally terrifying, horrible, whatever you can describe is not enough to tell you what's happening," he added. 

The IDF insists that it takes every possible measure to minimize civilian casualties, and it accuses Gaza's long-time Hamas rulers of using the civilian population as human shields. Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, has a documented history of hiding weapons and fighters around civilian infrastructure.

Pressure from the U.S. for Israel to reduce the impact on Palestinian civilians of its offensive in Gaza, sparked by Hamas' brutal Oct. 7 terror attack, has risen steadily, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the IDF have vowed to complete their mission to destroy Hamas, and warned it could take at least until the end of this year.

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