“There is really a feeling of complete destruction,” said Léo Cans, head of the Médecins Sans Frontières mission in the Palestinian territories, on franceinfo on Saturday January 20. He has been in the south of the Gaza Strip for several days and is giving his statement on the situation from there.
Franceinfo: You are in the south of the Gaza Strip, where fighting is now concentrated, particularly in the Khan Younes sector. What was your first observation?
Léo Cans: We are currently six or seven kilometers from the center of Khan Younès and even six to seven kilometers away we hear the bombs falling very loudly all night long, it makes the windows shake, it makes the walls shake. When I was at Nasser Hospital [à Khan Younès]Five days ago, the operating room windows shattered while doctors were operating on a patient. There's a lot of shooting, with helicopters. It doesn't stop day and night.
Are there still buildings in Gaza or is everything destroyed?
No, of course there are still buildings standing, but there are certain parts of the city where the destruction is very significant. I worked in Raqqa [en Syrie] And it makes me think of it today, of the great destruction of buildings, cars… There really is a feeling of utter destruction.
But where do people live and how?
People are completely naked. The city of Rafah [frontalière avec l’Egypte] has become a large refugee camp. There are tents everywhere in the city, on the beach, on the streets, and there are traffic jams. We can't even move anymore! People have very little water and very little food. We see long lines of people filling water containers…
It is extremely difficult for the population. They live in tents. It's very cold at the moment. In Gaza the temperature can drop to ten degrees at night and there are not enough blankets. So there are a lot of children who are sick. There are a lot of people who cough.
Maintaining basic hygiene is very complicated. And people are exhausted. We see it. There are many people who are depressed. Many of them are filled with great despair because many come from the north, where they have lost their homes. Every time we talk to someone, they tell us that they lost their house, that it was destroyed. Houses are for a resident of Gaza as they are for a Frenchman: they last a lifetime, they are a lifelong savings.
And then there is no future, there is no future. Everyone is waiting for the war to end. We always ask ourselves: When will the war end? And obviously the situation in the hospitals is catastrophic. I would even say it's a nightmare.
There are drinking water problems. You just told us that. And what are the health consequences? Are you afraid of epidemics? For example, thousands of cases of diarrhea have been reported.
Yes, absolutely, there is diarrhea and many cases of hepatitis, many skin diseases. The health of the population is gradually deteriorating and the population density in the south, in Rafah, is so high that diseases spread very quickly. Five days ago I was at the Nasser Hospital and also at the European Hospital, the last two hospitals in the south of the Gaza Strip that are still operating, the two big hospitals.
And the situation is nightmarish because there are many children, many women who have had amputations, many families who have been struck by lightning. There are often several family members in the same room who are very seriously injured and there are always people who are already dead.
I was talking to a little girl named Miriam at the European Hospital. Her story is very characteristic because she lost her little brother and sister in an air raid. She lost her mother and her father is nowhere to be found. This little girl, Miriam, had her right leg amputated, and next to her lay her aunt, who also had a large wound on her arm and leg and could not move from her bed.
We had to change Miriam's dressing without anesthesia because he had no anesthesia. And this little girl of six or seven screamed for 30 minutes, the time to clean the wound… And in the end it was terrible because she called her mother, who was dying. Such scenes are repeated one after another in all the hospital centers of the European Hospital, for example in the Nasser Hospital.
International aid is still difficult to access. The UN Secretary-General's spokesman says Israel is blocking the arrival of humanitarian aid supplies. Have you noticed?
Quite. This morning we had a movement to go to Gaza City to al-Shifa hospital, bring medicine and see our teams who are there. And we were still blocked at the checkpoint in Gaza City. This is systematic in the Israeli army. The Israeli government is preventing humanitarian aid from reaching northern Gaza. This is unacceptable.
We have major problems purchasing equipment, for example we cannot purchase generators. So our teams that are there, working very, very difficult hours for two weeks, no electricity, showering with cold water, we have no electricity at night, it's a small solar panel that gives us something to charge the batteries. And so an NGO is forced to work because the Israeli government refuses to allow us to import generators.
And the same problem exists with medical devices too. It is impossible to bring it to the north of Gaza, where the need is enormous. This is a population completely cut off from the world and completely forbidden by international law. Essential goods must be able to reach people. There is no reason why we cannot bring medicine, water or food to these populations who are completely besieged in the north.