'He pointed a gun in my face': Medical workers describe life in a Gaza hospital

Medical workers treat a child in a hospital in Gaza. Credit: AP

By Kieran Carter, ITV News Assistant News Editor

When ITV News spoke with Dr Ahmad Kahlot, Director of Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza, he could only spare minutes. Israeli armed forces had just entered the building after surrounding it for days.

"I don’t have enough time now to talk. I only have a short time to collect people and find a way to evacuate them," Dr Kahlot said.

Kamal Adwan was one of the few remaining operational hospitals in the north of the enclave, a place of shelter for an estimated 3,000 displaced Palestinians.

Dr Kahlot told ITV News that 70 medical staff were caring for 65 patients, as well as 12 premature babies who required incubator support.

"Just an hour ago, an officer talked to me directly, he told me to evacuate the patients and threatened me with a gun," he said.

"He pointed his gun at my face. He accused us of having weapons and told me to give them up."

Even staring down the barrel of a gun, Dr Khalot’s first thoughts were for others.

"We’ve been left without food, water or electricity for five days. Some patients and injured people have already died, including children," he added.

"I request now for the protection of the patients and medical crew. We ask the international community to pressure the occupation forces to spare our patients' lives and ours."

Our conversation was cut short as Israeli armed forces called him to leave.

On Tuesday, Israel released a video showing Dr Khalot confessing to working for Hamas.

He goes on to say that 16 hospital staff members also worked for them and that Hamas had offices in the hospital.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health has since disputed this, casting doubt over the circumstances under which this confession was obtained.

They maintain that all medical staff working at Dr Kahlot’s level will have received some level of training from Hamas, which is the governing body in Gaza and is largely in control of the health system.

Israel has always claimed Hamas uses civilian hospitals as cover for their operations.

Dr Kahlot’s confession came after Israel released footage which they say shows terrorists surrendering weapons from Kamal Adwan Hospital.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health disputes this however, saying these men are doctors and medical staff.

Photos from the IDF claiming to show Hamas militants from Kamal Adwan Hospital surrendering weapons. Credit: IDF

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) at least 580 healthcare workers and patients have been killed in Gaza since October 7.

This suggests the current conflict has been the deadliest for medical workers since records began, with the number of deaths recorded in Gaza in just two months more than double the global total of deaths in any previous year.

Speaking to ITV News, James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, described the situation for medical staff at one hospital in Southern Gaza.

"Their courage is almost indescribable," he said.

"For them, it’s their people and this is their moment, but they’re scared too. They have family members too. They’ve lost someone too."

Mr Elder shared the words of one doctor, a fourth-year medical student, working in conditions no amount of training could have prepared her for.

“'I want to be a doctor who saves people, not a doctor who buries people,'” Elder recalls her saying.

Surgeons have been forced to perform operations by torchlight due to electricity blackouts. Credit: AP

Before the current conflict began, Gaza - one of the most densely populated regions on the planet - was served by 36 hospitals.

Data from the WHO shows less than a third remain after 230 attacks on medical facilities over the past two months.

Al-Ahli Hospital was the site of a deadly blast on October 17 which is still under investigation.

Visiting the hospital to deliver vital medical supplies, the WHO described scenes of “utter chaos and a humanitarian disaster zone.”

Aid workers say they’re currently treating at least 200 patients, with the resources for just 40.

Evacuating patients and staff to safer facilities has not been simple either. The idea of ‘safe’ suggesting a sense of security no person in Gaza has felt since Israel’s military operation began.

Following a recent evacuation the WHO reported one patient did not survive the journey from Al-Ahli Hospital to Nasser Medical Complex in the south due to prolonged military checks.

This same evacuation also saw the detention of medical personnel.

Richard Peeperkorn, the WHO’s representative in Gaza and the West Bank, was part of this convoy. He describes witnessing medical staff being made to kneel at gunpoint.

One Red Crescent worker told him he was "beaten, threatened and even stripped of his uniform, blindfolded, hands tied behind his back and treated in a degrading and humiliating manner."

ITV News put these claims to the Israeli military who said they were not made aware any of the patients required urgent care.

They claimed all ambulances in the convoy were encouraged to continue south while they detained one paramedic "suspected of association with terror activities."

Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta

Even for those who have been able to leave, the pain remains. This is felt globally by medical colleagues and peers watching from afar.

Healthcare Workers for Palestine, a group of medical professionals from around the world say they’re appalled by the stories they’re hearing from the region.

Dr Omar Abdel-Mannan who founded the group spoke with ITV News and described the deteriorating situation for medical staff in the region.

"What they’re seeing now is beyond apocalyptic," he said.

"A friend of mine, a doctor who works in Gaza, described how on a shift he had three colleagues either come in (being brought into the hospital) deceased or he was told they were deceased and he went to see the body.

"I find it unimaginable as a healthcare worker, as a doctor, as a paediatrician and a father to imagine what I would do in a situation where I see my own wife, my child, my parents come in killed, injured or with amputations."

Earlier in the conflict ITV News covered the story of Dr Mohammed Abu Moussa, who was working in a Gazan hospital when his family were brought in after a missile struck their house.

As Israel’s incursion continues to advance south, stories like Dr Abu Moussa’s and the one Dr Abdel-Mannan described are becoming increasingly common.

Dr. Omar Abdel Mannan

In the two months since this conflict began, the capacity for medical staff to continue working is fading. Each day brings a new worst-case scenario for the remaining staff.

Dr Abdel-Mannan says the doctors he has spoken to are "emotional wrecks," telling him they frequently break down crying in the hospital corridors.

"But if we don’t look after our patients who will?" he said.

With less than a third of Gaza’s hospitals still operational and the number of medical staff killed in this conflict rising every day, British doctors like Dr Abdel-Mannan say they "feel a direct responsibility to speak up."

"Hospitals don’t run on air and determination," he added. "They run on fuel, they run on supplies, they run on staff."

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