JABALIYA CAMP, Gaza Strip — The ambulance at Kamal Adwan, the main hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, already had turned on its sirens to move a critically injured man to a better-equipped hospital. Several women blocked its way, one of them clinging to the vehicle and trying to open the side door. Only when she fainted from emotion could the ambulance leave.
All around, in the early afternoon on Saturday, wounded people streamed into the hospital. Medics wheeled out a man who was covered with shrapnel wounds, pressing a ventilator to his face. Six policemen were at the door to the emergency room, scuffling with panicked relatives trying to burst in.
On the third day of the Israeli ground operation in Gaza, similarly chaotic scenes were repeated at overwhelmed hospitals across the strip, where medical supplies are already depleted and staff exhausted after 12 days of heavy aerial bombing now intensified by ground battles. They are struggling to cope with a war that has already killed more than 333 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,400. With both Israel and the Hamas militants who dominate Gaza holding out to achieve their goals before a cease-fire, the operation appears to be more intense than a similar conflict in 2012, which lasted eight days, killing 133 Palestinians.
Even in ordinary times, Gaza hospitals are poorly supplied, and with the arrival of more patients on Saturday as the invasion intensified, doctors’ frustrations grew over the lack of crucial equipment. Kamal Adwan Hospital, for instance, has only two beds with ventilators and monitoring equipment, so the critically wounded had to go to the already-overwhelmed Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Israel opened the Erez Crossing into Gaza on Saturday to allow the delivery of five tons of medical supplies, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. But with no one sure how long the war will last, hospital administrators worry they will run out of supplies. And beds are overflowing. Doctors sent away moderately injured patients they normally would have admitted in order to make room for the more seriously wounded.
Dr. Said Salah, the director of health emergencies in northern Gaza, said that by noon, the three hospitals there had received 40 patients in four hours. A similar number used to arrive over the course of 24 hours before the ground invasion during the first 10 days of Israel’s air campaign, which began June 8 in what it says is an effort to end militant rocket fire from Gaza.
“Many are serious injuries, and the number of dead will increase,” Salah said. The hospital in Beit Hanoun, in the northeastern corner of Gaza, where ground fighting has been heavy, was receiving more decapitated bodies than before, he said, attributing the deaths to shrapnel from tank and artillery shelling.
Some of the shells had struck the family of the woman who clung to the ambulance. Inside was her brother, Basel Hamoudah. He was wounded when a shell struck a main intersection where he had rushed to help those injured in a strike moments before —a blast that killed three of his relatives, including two children.
“I want to see him, want to see him!” the woman wailed when she woke from her faint.
Another barrage hit the Abu Jarad family’s home near Beit Hanoun. Eight members of the extended family were killed, including parents and their only two children, according to Hanoud Abu Jarad, a 28-year-old relative who witnessed the strike.
Gazans’ efforts to flee the barrage were as chaotic as the scenes in the hospitals, with no one sure where to find a safe area.
“Where should I go?” said Abu Jarad, sitting in Shifa Hospital next to her 6-year-old daughter, Noor, who was wounded by shrapnel. “They are striking people in the street.”
Abu Jarad had moved her seven children to the house from the Nada apartment tower in Beit Lahiya, the day before, after three of her neighbor’s children were killed in a strike that hit their bedroom. But it was no safer.
On Friday night, a shell hit one wing of the house. She went outside to see who was hurt; she would learn that two of her husband’s sisters, Raja, 31, and Siham, 15, were dead.
Just then, another shell hit the other wing, where Abu Jarad was staying, injuring Noor. “I counted my children and found out two were missing,” the mother said. She rushed back inside and found them under debris — “Can you imagine?” she said — but unharmed.
Noor’s father carried her, running, until he found a taxi. Ambulances, when they managed to arrive, were at least 20 minutes late.
On Saturday, as relatives of Abu Jarad were buried — including a toddler and an infant — artillery shells crashed not far away and Hamas rockets were launched nearby. Abu Jarad, tending Noor, missed the ceremony, and later wept, saying, “I should have seen them off.”