Australian doctor trapped in Gaza hospital pleads with government to evacuate medical team

An Australian doctor trapped in one of Gaza’s few functioning hospitals has urged the Australian government to do more to get him and his colleagues out and bring in additional medical aid.

Sydney-based Dr. Modher Albeiruti is one of 16 international doctors and medical workers stranded at the European hospital in Khan Younis since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing this month.

“The message is: try to get us out before we have another Zomi Frankcom,” he told Guardian Australia, referring to Australian aid worker World Central Kitchen, who was among seven people killed in attacks by Israeli armed drones in April.

“Push to reopen borders to get aid and medical missions to Gazans.”

The US government has evacuated 17 of its nationals from the cohort, but health workers from other countries – reportedly Britain, Australia, Egypt, Jordan and Oman – remain stranded.

Albeiruti, third from right, with his colleagues in the European hospital after the US evacuated some of its citizens. He has urged Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department to evacuate the entire team

Albeiruti, who works as an emergency physician at Wollongong and Fairfield hospitals, entered Gaza on May 1 for a two-week medical mission with the US-based Palestinian American Medical Association.

He said his delegation would leave Gaza on May 13 – to be replaced by another group of volunteer health workers who had gathered at Gaza’s border with Egypt.

But those plans were thrown into disarray when the Israeli army seized the Rafah crossing on May 7, closing the only entry and exit point for international humanitarian workers.

“We completed our mission almost a week ago, we are under pressure from our families, they are extremely worried,” he said. “We are also exhausted after almost three weeks.”

Albeiruti with a young patient who had both his legs amputated.

The group of doctors that Albeiruti is part of brought suitcases full of medical supplies to Gaza, but he said they are quickly running out.

“On every mission they bring a lot of supplies so they can function – everything is getting less and less,” he said.

He said he fears the hospital will soon be the “next” as Israel defies international warnings and presses ahead with the invasion of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge.

Albeiruti said he had had brief contact with an Australian official.

“I urged them to take us out, the whole team. It’s not ethical for me to leave my team alone. We have to leave, we have to leave as a team,” he said.

“The Americans acted on behalf of their citizens and ignored all other nationalities on the team,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Gaza”, but added: “due to our privacy obligations we cannot comment further”.

Guardian Australia understands the Australian government has taken his case to Israeli authorities.

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Healthcare in Gaza has been paralyzed by continued Israeli bombardments.

According to the World Health Organization, 23 of Gaza’s 39 hospitals are no longer functioning and those that are still operational are overwhelmed by the number of patients, the severity of their injuries and the dwindling resources to treat them. The supply of pain medication, antibiotics and even bandages is running out: doctors report that they operate without anesthesia.

Thousands of displaced Gazans are also seeking shelter in hospitals, with nowhere else to go and opting for the relative safety of hospital corridors.

Palestinians waited for medical care at the European hospital in Khan Younis last week. Albeiruti says medical supplies are running low. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The southern Gaza city of Rafah – just south of Khan Younis – normally has just under 300,000 inhabitants. The number grew to more than 1.5 million people in the early months of the conflict, as displaced Palestinians fled the bombardment and sought refuge in southern Gaza.

But after an IDF warning before the first attacks on Rafah, at least half a million civilians fled the city. Roads going north and west are described as choked with cars, trucks, trolleys and pony carts loaded with people and their belongings.

There are acute shortages of food, fuel and clean water in Gaza and aid convoys to the area have been attacked by Israeli settlers. A US military-built floating pier – anchored on the beach in Gaza – has been completed and will begin transporting humanitarian supplies within days.

Amid the chaos of continued bombings, mass popular movements and a re-closed Rafah border crossing, international doctors who have been on rotations in Gaza have found themselves stuck in the occupied territory.

White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby said 17 of 20 American doctors those trapped in the area had been evacuated last week.

Three chose to remain in solidarity with international and Palestinian colleagues.

“I can assure you that all American citizens who wanted to leave are out,” Kirby said.

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But health workers from other countries remain stranded, with no information on when the Rafah crossing could reopen to them. New medical teams waiting to enter the area are also stranded on the other side of the border.