Mahmud al-Astal is one of many medics providing lifesaving care as casualties flood hospitals in Gaza, only to one day discover his sister and her entire family among the dead.
“I went to the morgue and found her charred and in pieces,” the 34-year-old doctor told AFP from the main hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.
“On the third day of the war, while I was working at the emergency unit in Nasser Hospital, I discovered my sister had been killed with her husband and children,” he said.
Those strikes razed entire buildings, including one where Astal’s 40-year-old sister Sadafah died alongside her husband Hussein, also 40, and their children Fadwa, Azar, Ahmad and Suleiman, aged between six and 13. Israel began striking Gaza Strip following the October 7 Hamas attack that saw gunmen storm across the border, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians and taking 229 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.
The fierce aerial campaign has so far claimed the lives of more than 7,300 people, including about 3,000 children, in the impoverished enclave, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
“Ever since my sister was killed… the nightmares don’t leave me. I imagine that my children will arrive at the hospital in pieces,” Astal said.
“My children dream of travelling one day. Now I don’t know if they will come out of this war alive.”
Despite the tragedy, he is determined to continue his vital work.
“We have no other choice but to work and serve the injured to save them.”
– ‘Stench of death’ –
Wearing a red medics vest, he examines a young girl bleeding from a head injury who is crying in the emergency room. “Don’t be scared,” he consoles her. Walaa Abu Mustafa, 33, also works as a doctor in the hospital’s emergency unit.
She too was stunned to find her aunt Samira and her husband Tawfik and their 15-year-old son Sharif among “dozens” of victims of an Israeli strike who arrived at the hospital Friday. Samira and Sharif were already dead on arrival while Tawfik succumbed to his wounds shortly afterwards, she said.
“The torn body of my cousin arrived wrapped up in a sheet,” she said.
“My aunt was like a mother to me,” she continued, struggling to catch her breath. “I can’t speak, I’m in shock over what happened.”
But she too has vowed to “continue my work, because it’s my duty and there aren’t enough doctors”.
Her coworker, respiratory physician Raed al-Astal, was at the hospital on Monday when he received a panicked call from his wife saying a strike had hit the building opposite theirs. He hurried to the emergency unit where the victims had been taken, and found his relatives were among the dead.
“My aunt, her husband and their children as well as my cousin’s wife were killed,” he said.
“The stench of death is everywhere, in every neighbourhood, every street and every house.”
Source: Iraqi News