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'A war on children:' GTA doctors describe horrors of war in Gaza

Dr. Anas Al-Kassem was among three Canadian doctors who visited Gaza to provide supplies and perform dozens of surgeries, many on children wounded in the war. (Supplied) Dr. Anas Al-Kassem was among three Canadian doctors who visited Gaza to provide supplies and perform dozens of surgeries, many on children wounded in the war. (Supplied)
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Three GTA-based surgeons have returned from a two-week stint in hospitals in southern Gaza, where they operated on dozens of children maimed by Israel’s bombing campaign and warned of many more casualties to come if the war continues.

The doctors, who returned to the GTA last week, described a healthcare system on the brink of collapse amid the constant shelling and lack of basic supplies in Gaza as they reflected on the experience in interviews with CTV News Toronto. 

“It was a lot of children. A lot of women, a lot of grandparents, a lot of families coming in collectively, every single hour. There’s bombs going every hour. You feel a 24-hour humming of drones all above you, that’s constant,” recalled Dr. Yasser Khan, a Toronto-area ophthalmologist. “It was mass chaos. I never really expected how bad it was.”

Dr. Khan, Dr. Al-Kassem, and Dr. Amgad Elsherif travelled through Egypt to Gaza with three other surgeons from the United States in a group assembled by the non-profit organization Rahma Worldwide. They worked in the Nasser and European Hospitals in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.

Their decision to speak publicly about their experiences in Gaza came as a number of demonstrations were held over the weekend in Toronto to mark 100 days since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war.

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing approximately 1,200 people and taking hundreds of others hostages.

Israel responded with a military campaign to dismantle Hamas and return the hostages. According to a count by the Gazan Ministry of Health, more than 23,000 people in Gaza have died so far.

More than 10,000 of those dead have been children, according to a count by that ministry.

“There are people on the roads. The ambulances cannot reach them. There are people under the rubble. There are people who died from trauma, who don’t have medication. There is no dialysis in the whole of Gaza. So these people are not counted,” Dr. Amgad Elsherif said.

Dr. Anas El-Kassem was among three Canadian doctors who visited Gaza to provide supplies and perform dozens of surgeries, many on children wounded in the war. (Supplied)

Dr. Al-Kassem said the youngest patient he operated on was five years old. Dr. Yasser Khan said he operated on the eyes of children that were damaged by shrapnel, with the youngest being as little as two years old.

“This really is a war on children,” Khan said. “There are a lot of children and there is children everywhere. So it makes sense that if a bomb is dropped, it’s going to cause a lot of chaos and deaths of children.”

Exhausted hospital staff were happy to receive supplies the doctors brought, as they were lacking in basic items, said Dr. Al-Kassem.

“What strikes you is the amount of suffering, the hunger that impacted the million that went to South Gaza as a refuge. You can see a lot of families suffering,” he said.

He said he was struck by the resilience of the population, and recalled one surgery on a five –year-old girl with a cranial injury, who survived an initial operation.

The next day, she appeared to be paralyzed, he said. He and a neurosurgeon reviewed the CAT scan and found another injury and doctors did surgery on her head immediately, he said.

“She was able to move her extremities the next day. There are great success stories,” he said. “You do what you have to do to save lives,” he said.

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