GAZA CITY: Gaza medical chiefs are turning to volunteers to help run an emergency service buckling under Israel’s offensive as ambulances struggle to reach bomb sites past rubble-strewn roads and with ever-depleting supplies of fuel.
Medical and emergency staff have worked with little rest and are deployed in the most dangerous areas, witnessing the horror of violent death, terrible injuries, and grief.
Gaza’s Health Ministry has called on all trained paramedics to help staff hospitals and call-out teams, but though dozens have responded, the system is still in dire need of more workers, it said.
“I have not gone home since the first day of the war. I shower here, sleep here, and eat here,” said Loay Al-Astal, a volunteer emergency worker in Khan Younis, south of the enclave.
Health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say Israeli air and artillery strikes have killed more than 8,000 people since Oct. 7.
After Israel began ground operations on Friday, many Gaza residents fear the destruction will intensify.
Israel has ordered civilians to leave the northern half of the Gaza Strip for the south but has continued an intense bombardment across the enclave, and many people are refusing to leave.
Shelling on Gaza’s main north-south road on Monday meant the enclave was all but cut in two, with any attempts to flee south risking bombardment.
The Health Ministry said 116 medical staff had been killed in the bombardment since Oct. 7, along with 18 civil emergency department rescuers.
Astal, the volunteer who had trained at university to be a paramedic but was unemployed when the war began, described an incident in which some of his colleagues had nearly been killed by an air strike that blew out the windows of their ambulance.
“The glass was smashed and some of our volunteers were wounded,” he said.
He is haunted by the memory of trying to save a woman who was buried up to her neck in rubble from an air strike. “There was a cut on her head and I rushed to treat the wound,” Astal, 33, said.
She asked him to free her from the rubble so she could find her son, but she died minutes later, still trapped, he said. “I felt bad I couldn’t save her,” he said.
‘Where should we go?’
The head of the Khan Younis ambulance service, Naseem Hassan, said the department was overwhelmed and needed trained medics. “We opened the door for volunteers and many young people answered that call and have been on duty since the war began,” he said.
Along with the bombardment, Israel has imposed a blockade on the enclave, home to 2.3 million people, cutting supplies of electricity and fuel. Limited food and medical aid deliveries have entered Gaza since last week after international pressure on Israel.
“Ambulances are about to go out of operation because we have minimal fuel left. We have problems with communications. We lose touch with the ambulances that leave here,” said volunteer driver Sari Al-Najjar.
Without reliable power supplies, many residents could not charge phones, adding to the difficulties for ambulance crews trying to locate and coordinate rescues.
Thousands of people have gathered at hospitals in Gaza City, in the north of the enclave, many sheltering in makeshift tents hoping for some safety from the bombardment.