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The situation in Gaza from a doctor on the ground

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are continuing to follow the situation in Israel and Gaza after the attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas over the weekend. In an unprecedented cross-border raid over Israel's southern border from Gaza, hundreds of Israelis were killed. Retaliatory Israeli missile strikes on the Gaza Strip have killed hundreds of Palestinians, displaced thousands more. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country is at war. Citizens have been warned to leave as Israel prepares for a possible ground invasion, although it's not clear how people could leave. Gaza has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for more than a decade.

All throughout our program we are hearing from a variety of voices on the ground, including Dr. Medhat Abbas, Gaza's health ministry director general. He used to work at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza who works at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

MEDHAT ABBAS: This is applying too much pressure on our health professionals in the hospitals.

KELLY: He said that before this weekend, al-Shifa already had a shortage of medicine and supplies. Now it is worse. Israel has said as part of its siege of Gaza, it would cut off fuel, electricity and food.

ABBAS: With this shortage now, we have only electricity for four hours every day. In hospitals, we rely on standby generators consuming a lot of fuels. At the same time, the Israelis are closing borders, so we cannot have extra fuel to run those generators. Again, our capacity is very limited, especially in the intensive care units, operation rooms and the emergency rooms. The situation will be very hard for our staff. There's no safe route for the people to move inside Gaza Strip. Nobody knows because sometimes the attacks are random.

KELLY: Dr. Abbas told NPR that several ambulances had been attacked, and five have died at hospitals, including one ambulance driver.

ABBAS: Basically, we have not started yet. We have not started yet. If after all of that, they have not started, then what will happen when they really - I don't know. Are they planning for a big massacre in Gaza? I don't know. But there are only civilians, I mean, who will pay.

KELLY: And he worries they will run out of supplies completely.

ABBAS: We're consuming now in one day what we ordinarily consume in a month. Unless these borders are opened at once, for the fuel to run the generators and for medications, medical supplies to come at once to Gaza, there will be a collapse of the health system. I assure you there will be a collapse in the health system.

KELLY: When asked how he is doing personally, Dr. Abbas sighed.

ABBAS: It's pressure. It's too much pressure, too much pressure. Everybody is expecting you to help at a time where you cannot help yourself.

KELLY: And then he told us that even with everything on his shoulders, one of the lives that is weighing heavily on him right now is his family cat.

ABBAS: We have a cat. It's called Junco (ph). It's a very nice cat, a white cat, big size like a tiger. You know, it is scared. Whenever they attack, when he hears the bombs, you know, he starts to crawl in the ground, shivering and hide under the bed. I tried to explain to him, but I couldn't. I don't know his language. I mean, what could I say to him? We try to calm him down. We pat on his head. And we say, please wait. It will be OK. You will be OK. He doesn't want to eat. He doesn't want even to drink. And he's just shivering. It's a cat, I mean. He doesn't understand what's going on around us. But - so we think if they attack our house, they decide that we have to flee our house, how can we take it? It will run away. Shall we go and take it with us? Or shall we leave it inside the home? So we are thinking of that now. This is one of our plans in our home, how to save the life of this cat. And I hope it will stay with us. I hope nothing will happen to it.

KELLY: That's Dr. Medhat Abbas, Gaza's health ministry director general. He spoke to NPR's Majd Al-Waheidi. 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.

Majd Al-Waheidi
Majd Al-Waheidi is the digital editor on Morning Edition, where she brings the show's journalism to online audiences. Previously, Al-Waheidi was a reporter for the New York Times in the Gaza Strip, where she reported about a first-of-its-kind Islamic dating site, and documented the human impact of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war in a collaborative visual project nominated for an Emmy Award. She also reported about Wikipedia censorship in Arabic for Rest of World magazine, and investigated the abusive working conditions of TikTok content moderators for Business Insider. Al-Waheidi has worked at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, and holds a master's degree in Arab Studies from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. A native of Gaza, she speaks Arabic and some French, and is studying Farsi.
Tinbete Ermyas