Israel’s Rafah assault could halt last functioning hospital, WHO warns

WHO says a ‘full incursion’ into the Gaza city will only leave ill-equipped field hospitals and additional mortality.

RAFAH, GAZA - MAY 20: Injured Palestinians are brought to the Kuwait Hospital after Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza on May 20, 2024. (Photo by Mahmoud Bassam/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Injured Palestinians are brought to the Kuwaiti Hospital after Israeli air attacks in Rafah, Gaza [Mahmoud Bassam/Anadolu]

A World Health Organization official said the last working hospital in Rafah could stop functioning and a substantial number of deaths could be expected if Israel launches a “full incursion” into the southern Gaza City.

“If the incursion would continue, we would lose the last hospital in Rafah,” Richard Peeperkorn, the WHO representative for Gaza and the occupied West Bank, said on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva on Tuesday.

He said that in the case of a “full incursion”, a contingency plan involving treating patients in a string of ill-equipped field hospitals “will not prevent what we expect: substantial additional mortality and morbidity”.

The comments came as Israeli tanks were reported to have advanced into the centre of Rafah.

Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from central Gaza’s Deir el-Balah, said Israeli tanks are “pushing deeper into Rafah right now from two major axes”.

“First, along the Philadelphi Corridor into the city centre, and second, from the eastern part of Rafah city all the way down to an area known as the al-Awda traffic circle,” he said.

Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive stirred renewed outrage after an air raid on Sunday ignited a blaze in a tent camp in a western district, killing at least 45 people.

Israel claimed it had targeted two senior Hamas operatives in a compound and had not intended to cause civilian casualties.

On Tuesday, 21 Palestinians were killed and dozens of others wounded in an Israeli attack on an area with tents housing displaced people in al-Mawasi, west of Rafah, according to Palestinian medical officials.

Peeperkorn said that of the three hospitals in Rafah, only one was “barely functional”. He said the Abu Youssed Al-Najar Hospital, which had previously serviced 700 dialysis patients, was no longer operating.

Artillery shelling in Rafah reached as far as the vicinity of the Kuwait Specialist Hospital, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud said on Tuesday, which has been pushed out of service. Three field hospitals in western Rafah city, are also all out of service, he said.

Rafah was a major entry point for humanitarian relief before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gaza side of the border with Egypt earlier this month and seized control of the crossing from the Palestinian side.

Peeperkorn said its closure had had a direct impact on the WHO’s ability to get medical supplies into Gaza.

“Almost 100 percent of the medical supplies, essential medicines, equipment, they actually come from El Arish [in Egypt] through the Rafah crossing,” he said. “There are currently 60 trucks that are in El Arish waiting to get into Gaza.”

Since the Rafah closure, WHO has only been able to get three medical supply trucks through the Karem Abu Salem crossing, which Israelis call the Kerem Shalom crossing, Peeperkorn said.

Meanwhile, WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said that since Israel launched its offensive in Rafah, “there’s been an abrupt halt to all medical evacuations,” warning that more people will die waiting for treatment due to the halt.

Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are estimated to require urgent medical evacuation, but few have been able to leave the besieged territory since October 7.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies