The Current

Situation in Gaza hospitals feels like a 'bottomless pit,' says surgeon

Israel’s military incursion is pushing Gaza’s health-care system to the brink, with doctors reporting having to make life-or-death decisions amid dwindling fuel and medical supplies.

Lack of fuel, supplies weighing down on 'heroic' Gaza doctors, says WHO director

A group of five people walk into a hospital, including, a young man holding a baby, a girl, and a woman who is supported by another woman.
Palestinians react following Israeli strikes at a hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

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As more wounded patients are rushed to Gaza hospitals, British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta can't help but feel the world has turned its back on the region.

"There's no talk of a ceasefire. There's no talk of a humanitarian corridor," he told The Current guest host Nora Young.

"It's just this sense of [an] unending bottomless pit, that misery that just keeps getting worse and worse every day and there is no end in sight."

Thousands fled Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital over the weekend as Israeli troops encircled it, and doctors said gunfire and explosions raged all around it on Monday. Israeli troops appear to be only a few blocks away from the facility.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals such as Al-Rantisi Hospital as a cover for its fighters, but Hamas has denied the accusations. CBC correspondent Briar Stewart also told Young that doctors she's spoken to have denied seeing fighters or anyone with weapons in their hospitals.

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Israel says it's created corridors around Al-Shifa Hospital that patients can evacuate through. But Abu Sitta, who was initially working at Al-Shifa Hospital before moving to Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, says there are still patients hiding inside the hospital's corridors with doctors.

People in the forefront take shelter outside Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza.
Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza on Nov. 8. (Doaa Rouqa/Reuters)

Since the beginning of Israel's offensive last month, more than 11,200 Palestinians, including more than 4,600 children, have been killed, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. Around 1,200 people were killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel's blockade has also cut off Gaza residents from electricity, fuel and water.

"This is what we've been warning about from the very beginning," Abu Sitta said. "The whole narrative, the targeting of the health system, the health sector, was aimed at creating and worsening a humanitarian catastrophe."

No relief, no supplies

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 137 attacks on health care in Gaza as of Nov. 12. Those attacks have killed at least 521 people, including 16 medical workers.

"It really is a catastrophic situation because the health needs amongst the population are soaring, and our ability to meet those needs is plummeting at the same time," said Richard Brennan, WHO's regional emergency director for the eastern Mediterranean.

WATCH: 'Relentless' situation in southern Gaza hospital, says Red Cross chief surgeon

'Relentless' situation in southern Gaza hospital

23 days ago
Duration 1:33
Dr. Tom Potokar, chief surgeon of the International Committee of the Red Cross, described on Monday the overwhelming need at the European Hospital in southern Gaza.

Abu Sitta said Al-Ahli Arab Hospital is the "only functioning hospital in the Gaza Strip." But following a deadly blast at the hospital last month, he says it only has two functioning operating rooms left.

The hospital doesn't have a neurosurgeon and only recently got an X-ray technician, he added.

"We had to turn the forecourt into a field hospital just to be able to triage and treat the wounded," he said. 

I tell [my family] … that I will not be able to leave my patients behind until they're safe.- Ghassan Abu Sitta, surgeon

Due to the shortage of supplies, only life-saving procedures are being performed — and when they are performed, there's no anesthetics of any kind to help the patients through the pain.

The only relief Abu Sitta can provide to patients is the bleak truth that there's no other option.

"I think they realize that this is it, there's nothing else," he said. "That we're unable to give them the kind of care that they need and deserve."

Babies lie shoulder to shoulder in a bed.
Newborns are placed in bed after a power outage forced them to be taken off incubators in Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital on Nov. 12. (Reuters)

Brennan says it's been challenging to get medical supplies and equipment into the hospitals.

"We've only been able to do two deliveries to the north over the last few weeks," he said.

"And today we heard that UNWRA … [the UN agency for Palestinian refugees] are unable to continue as of today because of a lack of fuel, so [a] really desperate situation."

While Israel says there are evacuation corridors around Al-Shifa Hospital, Brennan says an organized evacuation isn't currently happening due to the lack of fuel and vehicles.

"There aren't many practical ways we can do this right now," he said. "Just having one road that is protected for the movement of personnel is one thing. But then having the vehicles, the fuel, the equipment, the staff is another thing."

"All those conditions aren't met for a safe evacuation at the present time."

From Israel's bombardments and the threat of attacks, to the fear of "whether the next patient that comes through may be a family member or a friend or a community member," doctors in Gaza are dealing with a lot of external pressures, Brennan said.

"So they've been heroic. They continue to be heroic in these incredibly difficult circumstances."

WATCH: UN rep says sieges that endanger civilians 'prohibited under international humanitarian law'

Sieges that endanger civilians 'prohibited under international humanitarian law,' UN rep says

2 months ago
Duration 0:52
Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, discussed Israel announcing a 'complete siege' of Gaza after Hamas launched attacks from the enclave that have since escalated into a war.

Prioritize ceasefire: Brennan

As Gaza's health-care system continues to fall apart, Brennan says a ceasefire and resources should be the main priority.

"We want unhindered access to hospitals and to communities in need so we can deliver the aid," he said. "We want a cessation of attacks on health care."

"And, of course, we want the hostages to receive health care as well. We want them released unconditionally also."

Until then, Abu Sitta will be doing all he can to treat Gaza's wounded.

"I tell [my family] … that I will not be able to leave my patients behind until they're safe, and I can't evacuate until there's a humanitarian corridor or there's a ceasefire."


Mouhamad Rachini is a Canadian-Lebanese writer and producer for CBC Radio's digital team. He's worked for several CBC Radio shows including The Current, Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup. He's particularly passionate about stories from Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. He also writes about soccer on his website Between the Sticks. You can reach him at

With files from the Associated Press. Produced by Joana Draghici, Howard Goldenthal and Willow Smith

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