The World Health Organization is appealing to Israel to refrain from hitting hospitals, health care centers and paramedics. It says dozens of hospitals and ambulances have been hit by Israeli fire during the three-week conflict despite receiving assurances from Israeli authorities that they would be safe.
Just a couple of days ago, three hospitals were attacked. The most serious was on the Al-Quds Palestinian Red Crescent hospital in Gaza city. All the patients had to be moved to the main hospital, Shifa.
Tony Laurence is acting head of the World Health Organization's Office in the West Bank and Gaza. In a briefing from Jerusalem, he told journalists in Geneva that overall, 16 health facilities and 16 ambulances have been damaged or destroyed, most by indirect fire.
"This recent damage to health facilities and so on comes after an assurance was given us by Israel and an order issued as we were advised by the general of the southern command that ambulances and medical personnel and U.N. as well must be protected. One has to ask what has one to make of such assurances when only two or three days later we have these incidents occurring," he said.
The Palestine Health Ministry reports nearly 1,200 people have been killed and 5,300 wounded. Most are civilians and one-third are children.
The Israeli Cabinet reportedly is preparing to vote on a proposal for a unilateral cease-fire Saturday evening. But, in the lead-up to this vote, Israel mounted 50 air strikes Friday evening, killing and wounding more people.
Laurence says it is virtually impossible in some areas, particularly around Gaza City, for ambulances and paramedics to reach people who are wounded and dead because of the fighting. He says the health care system has been weakened and depleted because of the 18-month Israeli blockade.
He says hospitals are short of supplies, the equipment is deplorable and the infrastructure is in desperate need of repair.
"Despite all that, the hospital doctors have coped remarkably well," said Laurence. "They are very experienced with this kind of work. But, it is a system now under enormous strain and, of course, it is now absolutely at full capacity and, the beds are steadily filling up. The main hospital Shifa has coped up to now by very efficient discharge of patients as soon as they are ready to be moved on."
Laurence says this situation cannot go on for much longer. He says both the hospitals and health personnel are reaching the limit of what they can do to care for the ever-growing number of war wounded.
He says the World Health Organization is assisting the hospitals. He says WHO is trying to address the shortage of drugs and equipment. But, he says there is only so much that can be done under the current terrible circumstances.