Rafah, Gaza Strip – A convoy of ambulances lined up on the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing.
Inside one of them was volunteer paramedic Khader Shamout, but he wasn’t there to transport the wounded. Shamout had been transporting people injured in an Israeli air attack on October 20 when his ambulance was hit.
His arm was badly wounded. Initially, the doctors amputated it below the elbow but repeated infections meant he had to undergo seven surgeries and further amputations. His arm is now amputated above the elbow and he requires further surgery.
“The pain is excruciating,” he explained. “I ask Egypt to treat me well so I can go back to Gaza and live a better life. I hope I’ll have one last operation. All I want is to be around my young family, my two-year-old son and baby daughter, safe and sound.”
For the first time since October 7, when Israel began its offensive on the Gaza Strip following an attack by Hamas that left more than 1,400 people dead in Israel, foreign nationals, some Palestinians with dual citizenship and dozens of injured people have been permitted to leave the Gaza Strip. According to the General Authority for Crossings in Gaza, 76 wounded Palestinians have crossed into Egypt so far.
According to Gaza’s health ministry, 8,796 Palestinians have been killed in more than three weeks of Israeli air raids, including 3,648 children, and 22,000 people have been wounded. Hospitals, overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties and running out of fuel as a result of Israel’s “total siege” of the strip, are in a state of collapse. At least 16 of the territory’s 35 hospitals have been forced to shut down, as have 51 of its 72 primary healthcare clinics.
في اليوم 25 من بدء العدوان على الشعب الفلسطيني في غزة، قررت #مصر فتح معبر رفح من أجل استقبال 81 جريحا فلسطينيا من أصل أكثر من 22000 جريح فلسطيني، أي ما نسبته أقل من 0.34٪
— هاني عواد | Hani Awad (@Hani_awwad) October 31, 2023
Translation: On the 25th day of the start of the aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza, Egypt decided to open the Rafah crossing in order to receive 81 wounded Palestinians out of more than 22,000 wounded Palestinians, i.e. a percentage of less than 0.34%. Thank you Egypt.
Major General Mohamed Shusha, the governor of Egypt’s North Sinai, said that hospitals in his region had 300 available beds for patients from the Gaza Strip and that a medical team on the Egyptian side of the border would evaluate the patients before transferring them to hospitals.
Egypt has also prepared a field hospital with 50 beds in Sheikh Zuweid, 15km (nine miles) from Rafah, and plans to send some of the most serious cases to hospitals elsewhere in the Sinai region or further afield to the city of Ismailia.
‘There are thousands more’
Hisham Adwan, the spokesman for the General Authority for Crossings, explained that Egypt had informed them on Tuesday night that the border, the only crossing point out of the Gaza Strip, would be opened. But the small number permitted to cross is only a fraction of those who need treatment.
“There are thousands of serious cases suffering from burn or trauma wounds, and they also need medical treatment abroad,” he said.
“We need fuel to operate hospitals and for ambulances and other vehicles used by the civil defence teams to rescue people under the rubble,” he explained. “We want the border crossing to be open on a consistent daily basis in order to transfer the seriously wounded so they can get the best treatment.”
Naseem Hasan, an ambulance officer who was at the Rafah crossing, explained that the wounded had been transferred from four different hospitals: al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the European Hospital and the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah.
“These wounded need advanced treatment and operations,” he said. “There are thousands more left that need medical referrals. There are no beds available in ICUs in the hospitals in Gaza.”
Among the injured were many who had serious burns and needed immediate intensive care, he said, adding, “These are injuries that we have never seen before.”
Hoping for a better future
Saeed Imran, 23, was on his way to his job as a labourer on October 10 when an Israeli air attack struck a building close to him in Khan Younis.
He woke up in the hospital, with shrapnel in his head and his right eye.
“I can only see out of my left eye now,” he said. “I did an operation on my right eye, but the hospital said I needed another one to save my eye and a referral. But the second operation got cancelled because the supplies needed were in a warehouse that Israel bombed.”
Imran was accompanied by his father Amin.
“The situation is very difficult,” the 56-year-old explained. “People, afraid that they will be buried alive in their own homes, are sleeping in the streets. Others queue from 2am until the afternoon just to get a bag of bread at a bakery.”
When it was time to cross, Amin was turned back as he did not have his passport with him. While patients required only their identification cards, issued by the Israeli military, those travelling with the injured needed their passports to cross.
For Imran, saying goodbye to his family was especially hard.
“I don’t know whether they will be alive or dead by the time I get back,” he said. “I just hope life gets better for everyone in Gaza.”