As It Happens

Senior Gaza doctor killed in Israeli airstrike remembered for his compassion and skill

The death of one of Gaza's top doctors is a devastating loss to the community, says one of his former colleagues and students.

Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf was the head of internal medicine at the largest hospital in Gaza

Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf, left, poses with some of his colleagues in Gaza. Al-Ouf, the head of internal medicine at Shifa Hospital, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Sunday. (Submitted by Osaid Alser)

The death of one of Gaza's top doctors is a devastating loss to the community, says one of his former colleagues and students.

Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Ouf was one of two senior doctors killed in Israeli airstrikes on Sunday. He was the head of internal medicine at Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, and a senior member of its coronavirus response team. 

"It's a huge loss, as you can imagine, not only for the hospital, but also for us as his former students, and his current students, and also his patients who he treated," Dr. Osaid Alser, a research fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who studied under Al-Ouf, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"He is one of the most compassionate doctors I've ever worked with. He's very nice to everybody. He, at the same time, is very firm when it comes to patient care. He does not allow any error, and he works really hard to give the best possible care to his patients."

Strike targeted Hamas: Israel 

Al-Ouf, 51, was killed in his home by an early morning missile attack in the al-Wehda district of Gaza on Sunday. Two of his teenage children and his parents were also killed, and his third son is in critical condition, Alser said. 

Dr. Mooein Ahmad al-Aloul, a 66-year-old psychiatric neurologist, was also killed in his home during the strike, Gaza's health ministry told the Independent

The Israeli army spokesperson's office told The Associated Press the strike targeted "underground military infrastructure" belonging to Hamas, the military group that controls Gaza. As a result of the strike, "the underground facility collapsed, causing the civilian houses' foundations above them to collapse as well, leading to unintended casualties," the office said.

But Alser says Israel should have issued a warning to civilians in the area so they could evacuate before the strike.

Al-Ouf, pictured here in the classroom, was an incredible teacher, says his former student Dr. Osaid Alser. (Submitted by Osaid Alser)

Violence in the region has escalated dramatically in recent weeks, sparked in part by a court case by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. This was followed by a police raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan.

Israel has been bombarding Gaza with airstrikes, as Palestinian militants launch rockets across the border into Israel. 

Gaza medical officials say 213 Palestinians have been killed so far, including 61 children and 36 women, and more than 1,400 have been wounded. Israeli authorities say 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children.

In an interview with Off on Tuesday about the conflict, Michael Freeman, a policy adviser to Israel's minister of foreign affairs, said the "vast majority" of those killed by Israeli airstrikes are members of Hamas, and that the death of any child or innocent civilian is "an absolute tragedy."

A Palestinian boy sits at the remains of destroyed Hamas site following earlier Israeli air strikes, in Gaza City, March 15, 2019. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

'The real heroes'

But Al-Ouf was uninterested in taking sides in the conflict, Alser said. 

"It is something rare to find somebody like him to be apolitical. He does not speak about … any organization in Gaza, any party or anything like that. He only cares about treating patients, and that's it," he said. 

Alser says doctors like Al-Ouf are much needed in Gaza. The health-care system, already gutted by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed in 2007 after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces, has been struggling with a surge in coronavirus infections even before the latest conflict.

Alser — who worked briefly at Shifa Hospital before securing a permit to study in the U.S. — says medical supplies there are always low, and border closures during times like this make it nearly impossible to transport patients to other medical facilities where they can get the care they need. 

"Most patients either survive or just die because they don't have the resources needed to treat their condition. It's just extremely hard," he said.

"In my opinion, the people who stay and work there in Gaza are the real heroes who take care of patients, take care of their family."

He says he worries constantly about his own family back home in Gaza.

"I keep calling my family almost every hour or two to check on them. It's just extremely hard and frustrating," he said.  "I do worry about many patients and many, many people, including — honestly — my family that would be targeted at any time."

Alser hopes to one day return home to be with them, and bring his much needed medical skills to Gaza. He said he often thinks of the last piece of advice Al-Ouf gave him before he left for Boston.

"He advised me to kind of go get training and return back to Palestine to teach," he said. "I do agree with him. I do need to get some experience and then return and give back." 

Alser was friends with Al-Ouf, and studied medicine under him in Gaza. Pictured here in his graduation cap and gown, he is now a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. (Submitted by Osaid Alser)

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press and Reuters. Interview with Dr. Osaid Alser produced by Chris Harbord.

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