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The situation in northern Gaza

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Five weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas, there is growing international public outcry for Israel to institute a cease-fire. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in London today demanding it. But today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bombardment and invasion of Gaza will not stop unless Hamas frees all of the Israeli hostages it seized on October 7. Hamas kidnapped 240 people that day in addition to killing around 1,200.

And since then, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed more than 11,000 people, according to the health ministry there. And conditions at hospitals in Gaza grow more desperate and dangerous as Israeli forces battle Hamas nearby. Aid groups say staff cannot leave, even as Israel tells them to somehow get out, just like it's been ordering residents of northern Gaza to flee south.

NPR's Aya Batrawy has this report on the people and hospitals that can't evacuate. And as a warning to listeners, you will hear sounds of explosions and gunfire in this report.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Medical workers say thousands of people seeking shelter and hundreds of patients are trapped inside Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City with no way to leave.

NEBAL FARSAKH: All roads that lead to Al-Quds Hospital are closed due to the destruction of the roads and the buildings, so no one can get into Al-Quds Hospital or go out of Al-Quds Hospital. This also has resulted in the extreme shortages of food and water.

BATRAWY: Nebal Farsakh is a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent in the West Bank, which runs the Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City. She told NPR today they've been communicating with staff still inside Al-Quds Hospital through VHF radio waves, because all other forms of communication to the hospital have been cut.

FARSAKH: We have 500 patients inside the hospital who are receiving their medical care in the hospital. We have in the intensive care unit around nine patients who are critically injured, connected to life-support machines. Most of them are children. We also have a number of babies who are in the incubators. We have around 14,000 civilians. Most of them are children and women currently sheltering inside the hospital. So you can't imagine the disaster conditions that they are living under.

BATRAWY: She says staff there say they can see bodies on the streets near the hospital but can't reach them, and aid hasn't reached the hospital in at least a week. Fuel is running out.

FARSAKH: We have turned off the main generator and now only using the small generator. We have shut down the surgical ward inside the hospital. We have turned off the oxygen generator, and we are now relying on oxygen cylinders.

BATRAWY: Israel has barred fuel from entering Gaza for over a month, saying it could be used by Hamas. Israeli leaders say the aim of the war is to destroy Hamas so it can never carry out an attack again like it did on Israel on October 7. Israel has repeatedly called on everyone in northern Gaza and Gaza City to evacuate, including 13 hospitals there, many now without clean water, anesthesia or iodine to sterilize with.

TARIK JASAREVIC: Well, the scale of the health crisis right now is huge. It's a health catastrophe right now, what is happening in Gaza.

BATRAWY: That's Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization. He says some hospitals in northern Gaza are performing surgeries by mobile phone light because they've run out of electricity.

JASAREVIC: It's really difficult to - when you have constant arrival of patients with trauma injuries, to decide when you will actually use the little fuel you have to run generators. You also need to have a light. You can't just do surgeries with a flashlight of your mobile phone.

BATRAWY: There are people dying inside Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, where its last generator ran out of fuel Saturday. Health officials in Gaza say bodies are piling up inside the hospital with no way to bury them. Doctors Without Borders says Al-Shifa has faced relentless bombardment over the past 24 hours. The group is calling on the Israeli government to cease the, quote, "unrelenting assault on Gaza's health system." The organization released a voice memo from Dr. Mohammed Obeid from inside Al-Shifa, saying the lives of up to 40 babies whose incubators switched off are in peril. Already two died.

MOHAMMED OBEID: We had two neonatal patients die, actually, because the incubator, it's not working because there is no electricity. So the situation is very, very bad. We need help.

BATRAWY: The group has medical teams still at Al-Shifa who are treating hundreds of patients inside. Health officials in Gaza say five weeks of Israeli airstrikes and the war have killed more than 11,000 people and wounded another 27,000, most of whom are women and children. Doctors Without Borders says ambulances can no longer move to collect the injured. The group's staff say they're witnessing people being shot at as they attempt to flee Al-Shifa Hospital. Israel's military says the hospital is not under siege and will coordinate with anyone who wants to leave, but it hasn't made clear how people connected to life support can do that. There's intense fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas on the streets.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians heeded calls to evacuate south this week along one road where Israel said it wouldn't attack for limited hours. People with cars were reportedly ordered by Israel to leave their vehicles behind, and so children, elderly and the sick walked for miles with whatever belongings they could carry. Desneem Ahel (ph) says her family considered leaving Gaza City but are faced with an impossible choice.

DESNEEM AHEL: We can't. Leave to the south, and there is my grandma - my grandpa and my grandma. So they can't walk, and we can't hold them also. So this plan was cancelled, and it's terrifying being here under the missiles and the fire.

BATRAWY: The medical student sent me that in a voice note on Thursday. My messages and calls to her on Saturday didn't go through. Ahel's been sheltering with her parents, younger siblings and other relatives in an abandoned school in Gaza City.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

BATRAWY: This is what nighttime there sounds like.

AHEL: Closer to us. Closer and closer it comes. Death is come closer and closer every single minute. Every single second here in Gaza, under attack.

BATRAWY: People are struggling to find water and food to survive. The U.N. says all bakeries in northern Gaza have shut down. Ahel's family are growing desperate. She says they found a bag of flour amid the rubble of their bombed building. They ate the bread, but it was mixed with debris, sand and powder from explosives. She told me her relatives tried to flee south a few days ago but turned back because of Israeli shelling. Aya Batrawy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.