Patients and medics flee major Rafah hospital

By Mohammad Salem

RAFAH (Reuters) - Fearful medics and patients are fleeing a hospital in Rafah and transfers of the sick and injured via a border crossing with Egypt are at a standstill due to Israel's military operation, doctors and residents said on Tuesday.

The Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital is located in an area of southern Gaza the Israeli army has designated a combat zone in a conflict that has seen repeated Israeli attacks on hospitals, with only a third still operational. Israel justifies such attacks by saying that Hamas uses them for military purposes - a claim both hospital staff and Hamas deny.

Doctor Marwan al-Hams told Reuters Israel had put Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital at the centre of the battle field. "Its threats to it resulted in people and patients leaving the hospital," he said, adding that some medical crews had also left.

The dialysis department for patients with kidney disease remained open for now, he added.

World Health Organization spokesperson Margaret Harris warned that its closure would immediately endanger the lives of some 200 dialysis patients since it is the only one in Gaza.

"If they are shut down that means all those people will die simply from kidney failure because that's what keeping them alive," she said. Other medical services in Rafah have already been disrupted with some services suspended.

The Rafah crossing to Egypt has been seized by Israel and shut, preventing both medical evacuations of the sick and wounded and imports of medicines, medical aid groups say. The Gaza health ministry said 140 patients were scheduled to leave the besieged enclave on Tuesday for treatment.

"Today, my name was at the border, and I should travel to get my legs treated," Lama Abu Holi, an eight-year-old girl at Al-Aqsa Hospital with injuries to two limbs, told Reuters. "Because the border crossing is shut today, I could not travel. I am upset."

Mohammad Abu Skhil, a doctor working in Gaza's Kuwaiti hospital, said the halt to patient transfers would fill up hospital beds and burden the medical system further.

(Reporting by Mohammed Salem in Rafah, Doaa Rouqa in Deir Al Balah, Emma Farge in Geneva and Nidal Al Mughrabi in Cairo, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)