UPDATE: at least 23 are believed to have been killed in the Tel el Hawa invasion alone.
In the early hours of January 15, the Israeli army which had invaded and occupied the Tel el Hawa region, began shelling and firing heavily on the al Quds hospital and surrounding apartment buildings and shops. Residents of that newest region to be attack were sent fleeing, to join hoards of displaced, sheltering with families -if lucky-or in schools, if truly desperate. Medics and volunteers inside the hospital report at least 150 calls that were not being answered because medics’ and ambulances’ movement had been halted by the presence of tanks and snipers outside.
Later in the morning, Mohammed, a volunteer medic, reported: ‘Israelis are shooting at people who are leaving their houses.’
Sharon, an international human rights advocate, recounted some of what happened in the initial hours when the blasts hit the hospital. “Around 10 am a missile fell outside the office window, near the pediatric unit, where the new babies lie in incubators. There was a 2nd missile soon after, which caught on fire after hitting the same area.” She mentions two more hits, and it is later learned that some of the many hits caused flames to burn throughout the day in the storage centre.
“There was a family, too scared to stay in the house, standing outside Quds hospital,” she said. One 9 year old girl fell quickly after a sniper’s bullet caught her abdomen, leaving her now in critical condition in Shifa hospital.
Ambulances from Gaza city and Jabaliya were called at 10:30 pm January 15, called to race to the burning hospital with patients still inside. The hundreds of patients had been prevented by Israeli tanks and snipers from evacuating to safer grounds. Just before 11pm, when our ambulance arrived, it was to a scene of scrambling vehicles and medics, trying to cram as many patients as quickly as possible into an ambulance before screaming off to Shifa, overcrowded with patients, overcrowded now with ambulances and new arrivals. Pick up, drop off, race away (on roads not suitable for a heavily-tired car, let alone ambulances racing in either direction), pick up, race away, drop off… The fleet of vehicles managed to get the patients out, with those patients able to wait longer being wheeled on their cots and on stretchers two blocks down the street, away from the flames, but not yet away from the tanks and snipers. All the while, the very real danger of being sniped or shelled was on our minds. But the medics act first and worry (consciously) later. The darkness, the broken streets, the crowds, the urgency, the cold… it was a difficult frenzy, and thankfully successful. [But the ridiculousness of it doesn't escape me: the hospital was already struggling to care for patients and incoming wounded, like every other hospital in Gaza now with these daily attacks. The attacks continue, how they continue... 1,199 is the death toll, as of 30 minutes ago. Higher now, after the latest UN school bombing? And so while the hospitals and doctors strive to do their best under the worst circumstances, Israel ramps up the suffering, the challenges of medical care, survival, sanity. Israel destroys the hospital, and sends us scrambling to save these already injured, already endangered lives. So now we feel relieved... that the people who were already ‘saved' from danger have again been saved. But we've been set back, yet again, in daily survival.]
The next day, while surveying the destruction from the assault and sniping, Haithem told how he and another volunteer medic had tried to save a shot man who had been approaching Quds hospital, from the direction of the besieged apartment buildings, around 2 pm on January 15. Snipers in the higher floors of the taller buildings hit the man first in his torso, shooting twice. After he fell Haithem and another medic yelled to him and began to approach, nearly reaching the man. A sniper shot again, this time hitting the injured man’s leg and sending the medics away. In the flurry that ensued, with fire breaking out in the different buildings of al Quds hospital, and the later evacuation of 100s of sick and injured, Haithem lost track of the shot man, though he believes with the leg and torso wounds, and denied medical access, the man’s injuries must have been fatal.
Israeli strikes hit the Quds hospital, the neighbouring hospital cultural centre, and the Red Crescent operations centre. In all cases, the damage was serious, gutting and searing entire buildings, 2 ambulances, and cars. In the surrounding area, it was hard to find a surface untouched, unmarked, unburned. The cultural centre, a sort a classy rehab centre for patients, had housed a cinema, sauna, conference rooms, and lovely paintings along its interior walls. Some charred paintings and shattered chandeliers pay tribute to the centre’s former beauty.
Outside the Red Crescent centre, the two shells of ambulances, mangled, finished. A heavy stink of chemicals, sewage and garbage polluted the air, fires still burning in the Red Crescent storage building, empty oxygen canisters and destroyed equipment visible among the charred remains.
Layer upon layer of suffering. Even before the attacks, there was decimation by siege, leaving few places to enjoy. Barcelona playground was one of them. It was a treed area, a small oasis within the city from the busy streets around. After the tanks finished with it, Barcelona park is a pit of tank tracks and twisted remnants of leisure.
Around Barcelona park, in the Tel al Hawa region, people reacted to yesterday’s tank invasion. Some worked at cleaning up the rubble and wreckage that was their house, shop, car; some watched the steaming ruins of the Red Crescent centre, equipment and medicines burned and smoldering; some sat in huddles on apartment steps, watching or lost in thought, memories. How many memories have been attacked with this attack on civilians and infrastructure? How seriously do we take the psychological effect this war on humanity is having on the population besieged?
And around 3 pm, although the day had been comparatively quiet, the hum of tank motors and noise of drones could be heard again, the rapid-fire shooting starting anew.
Now, finishing this update off, I learn of a direct hit on another UN school, this one in Beit Lahia. Immediate reports are that it was hit by a missile, then twice bombed with white phosphorous. Two are known to be killed, both children, and many, many more injured, with serious injuries like amputation and burning.
Remains of buildings and shot up apartments in the extended neighbourhood around the hospital:
*vegetable stand, I’d noticed it on walks back from Quds hospital. A meagre stand for a meagre income. Pray that the owner was not inside.