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Doctors in Gaza recount atrocities in Washington

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

This coming week, an Israeli delegation will come to Washington to talk about plans to defeat Hamas fighters in Rafah. The U.S. is warning against a ground invasion that would be devastating for the more than 1 million Palestinians who have sought refuge in the southern part of Gaza. Doctors who have been to Gaza agree and are urging the U.S. to do much more to push for a cease-fire and to protect humanitarian workers. NPR's Michele Kelemen caught up with a group of those doctors visiting Washington.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In the State Department's main lobby, a Palestinian American doctor recounts one story that he had just shared with U.S. government officials there. Thaer Ahmad was recently part of a MedGlobal mission at a hospital in Khan Younis, where he heard about a 12-year-old girl who had survived an Israeli airstrike that killed her family.

THAER AHMAD: Two weeks being in Nasser Hospital, an Israeli tank shell flies through the window of her room, striking her and killing her instantly.

KELEMEN: He says he stood in that room looking at the damaged drywall and turned to see dozens of children playing in the hallways. They were among thousands of Palestinian civilians sheltering at that one hospital.

AHMAD: It's all of these kids that are affected, that are struggling with what's taking place. So we just wanted to share those stories. We want them to know that, whether it's you wake up not being able to go to school or not being able to have breakfast or not being able to go to the doctor, every single part of life in the Gaza Strip has been destroyed.

KELEMEN: And the longer the war goes on, the harder it will be to treat Palestinians, says Amber Alayyan, an American physician with Doctors Without Borders.

AMBER ALAYYAN: The patients who have survived thus far are increasingly getting sicker. They are getting more infections. Their wounds are getting infected. They're literally rotting. The fact that they don't have access to food for the patients makes it even harder for their wounds to heal, for example. So we're just going to see wounds getting more and more complicated.

KELEMEN: She'd like to see the U.S. do more to get aid into Gaza and to work with Egypt and Israel to evacuate some 8,000 Palestinians who need medical treatment that they can't get in Gaza now. There's another problem that Nick Maynard, a surgeon from Oxford, is raising. Israeli forces have been raiding hospitals, and the communication channels between aid groups and the Israeli military aren't working.

NICK MAYNARD: I think we all want to be reassured that when we go into Gaza that we will be protected, as is the right of all humanitarian workers under international law. So that was probably our biggest ask.

KELEMEN: He, too, brought stories of terrible scenes from the hospital where he volunteered in Gaza. He saw one young girl with burns so severe on her face that you could see her facial bones. It was clear she was going to die, Maynard says. She would have died in the U.S. and the U.K., too.

MAYNARD: But in the U.S. or the U.K. should have been palliated and should have been kept comfortable and allowed to die peacefully in privacy. That was a day in Al-Aqsa Hospital. We had no morphine that day. We knew there was morphine in Gaza, but it was in a depot stored somewhere. So we couldn't give her any pain relief. So she had to die in agony. It took several hours for her to die in absolute agony.

KELEMEN: Another physician is particularly worried about the children. Zaher Sahloul is a critical care specialist based in Chicago and president of MedGlobal

ZAHER SAHLOUL: I have a habit of asking children, what would you like to be in the future? And every other child in Gaza said they wanted to be doctors. They want to serve their community. Except for one child. I saw him in a shelter for the displaced. And he was traumatized, clearly. And I asked him, what would you like to be in the future? And he said, what future?

KELEMEN: Sahloul says the U.S. needs to do more to make sure that Palestinian children do have a future in Gaza. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.