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Israel's offensive has brought war to the hospital in Gaza's second largest city


We have a dispatch now from near the front lines of Israel's latest military offensive in Gaza. It's in Khan Younis, where Israeli troops are in combat with Hamas, trying to crush the militant group and find its leaders who planned the October 7 attack on Israel. NPR producer Anas Baba went there yesterday. He and NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv have this report.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Anas Baba got a ride into Khan Younis in a vintage pickup truck, the only kind of car that can run on vegetable oil, with gasoline in short supply.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: I'm heading now using a Peugeot truck, 504, made in 1973. At the moment, we entered the entrance of Khan Younis City. It looks like a ghost city.

ESTRIN: He saw residents fleeing.

BABA: The only thing that you can see is, maybe every 5 to 10 minutes, a car that's holding all of the belongings, from the mattresses, blankets, water and canned food, and stuck in at least 15 person inside of a sedan or maybe a donkey cart with the same image.

ESTRIN: He arrived in Khan Younis as a nearby explosion caked him in dust. He arrived at a pile of rubble where a multistory building used to stand. Crews there said the residents had already evacuated, but there had been two people inside now presumed to be buried under the rubble.


ESTRIN: With Israel battling militants, residents have poured into places like universities and the Nassar Medical Complex.

BABA: I'm sitting at the moment inside Nasser Hospital. Hundreds of families - mostly, they are women - sheltering over each corner of the hall. Even the parking lot - every single inch in Nasser Hospital is occupied with displaced people, like a metro station in one of the busiest countries in the world. Umm Hussam is one of those women that's just, like, sheltering inside of the hall. She's trying to make one of these small babies go to sleep. She's sitting on a mattress. Her daughter is sleeping next to her.

UMM HUSSAM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: She says, "The kids cry. They don't understand war or anything. You can be patient, but the kids can't." She's been sheltering here inside the hospital for weeks.

HUSSAM: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: She said, "In Ukraine, when a child or woman was killed, the whole world stood up for them. Here, women and children - their blood is spilled, and bodies are dismembered in the streets, but no one answers our pleas. Where are the Arab countries? This is a historic disgrace."

Gaza health officials say more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children. That number does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: The hospital's mosque loudspeaker called out to those sheltering there to donate blood. They're overwhelmed with patients. Many were bused in from northern Gaza after heavy fighting there in the first weeks of Israel's ground invasion. Now Israel has expanded its offensive to Khan Younis, and the hospital finds itself near the front lines of the heaviest fighting, receiving even more patients. Dr. Samer Mansour is the head nurse of the intensive care unit.

SAMER MANSOUR: You can imagine. We have 300 beds and 1,200 victims here in Nasser Hospital.

ESTRIN: Twelve hundred patients, many of whom are on mattresses on the floor, with supplies running low.

MANSOUR: No syringes, no needles, no abdominal gauze, no medication, no narcotic medication, medication for sedation.

ESTRIN: Nasser Hospital had been a hub for Palestinian journalists reporting on the war. It had internet, water, electricity, a safe place to file stories after covering a bombing. But now, most journalists have evacuated. The Gaza Health Ministry told NPR about 40 medical staffers have evacuated in the past week too.

MANSOUR: This evacuation because the fear of recurrency of Al-Shifa Hospital scenario. I think this is the main point for them - the fear.

ESTRIN: Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City's main hospital, was occupied by Israeli troops several weeks ago. The military says it found weapons there and tunnels under the hospital complex. Now the United Nations says Israeli troops have zeroed in on another hospital in northern Gaza.

BABA: What about the situation about you, yourself? Are you going to stay here if something happened to Nasser - like, the Israeli troops are all around the hospital?

MANSOUR: I'm here in the ICU with those patient living, lying on beds, with mechanical ventilator support. I can't leave because they will die.

ESTRIN: Anas says before he left the city, there was gunfire, and he saw a woman had fallen in the street about 50 yards outside the hospital. The hospital staff rushed her inside. She was declared dead. No one knew her name.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv, with Anas Baba in Khan Younis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN JACOBY'S "TOMORROW'S SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.