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Worries grow over fate of Palestinian doctor after Israeli troops raid Gaza hospital

Dr. Khaled al-Serr, outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.
Healthcare Workers Watch - Palestine
Dr. Khaled al-Serr, outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — It's been two days since the family and colleagues of Dr. Khaled al-Serr have heard from him.

On Thursday, Israel's military surrounded Nasser Hospital, where Serr worked. The Israeli military fired shots, killing one patient and wounding six others, before entering the hospital.

For three weeks, Nasser Hospital has not had the resources to send patients to other hospitals for specialized care. So Serr, a general surgeon, had to use WhatsApp to ask specialist colleagues for surgical guidance.

On Thursday, Khaled's messages to them grew dire: He wrote that no one could enter the ICU and that the backup ventilators could go out soon, leaving the lives of six patients on respirators in danger.

He sent a video showing an ICU patient he said had died because the electricity had been cut off.

"And another six patients is awaiting the same fate," he said. That was his last communication to his colleagues.

By Saturday evening, frantic colleagues from the groups Healthcare Workers Watch - Palestine, Gaza Medic Voices and Health Workers 4 Palestine issued a statement.

"We are deeply concerned that the Israeli military has abducted and unlawfully detained Khaled Al Serr. We demand his immediate release," it read, sharing Serr's messages, photos and a video.

It also described Serr's dedication to his patients.

Dr. Khaled al-Serr, performing surgery at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.
/ Healthcare Workers Watch - Palestine
Healthcare Workers Watch - Palestine
Dr. Khaled al-Serr, performing surgery at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.

"For almost a month, we have been consulting on cases with Khaled as he performed complex surgeries far outside of his specialty—with virtually no medical supplies and with bullets ricoquetching off the operating theater. He has risked life and limb to save his patients."

Gaza's health ministry said on Saturday that Israeli forces had detained a large number of medical staff at Nasser Hospital. The Israeli military has previously detained medical personnel.

NPR contacted the Israeli military for information on any medical personnel detained at the hospital, and specifically asked if Serr had been detained, but has not received a response.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday issued as statement saying it was "deeply alarmed" by the descriptions of chaos at Nasser Hospital.

"The hospital is the backbone of the health system in southern Gaza and must remain functional. Health facilities in the south have no capacity to receive more patients," WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told a United Nations press conference on Friday.

Hospitals are protected under international laws of war, but lose those protections if they are used as operational bases by the military or militants.

Hospitals as refuge

Nasser Hospital is located in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. The other main hospital there, Al-Amal, had also been raided by the Israeli military, who said they were looking for Hamas militants, leaving Nasser Hospital as the only port of call for many patients.

Additionally, thousands of displaced Palestinians had taken shelter there as well as in other hospitals — that have since been evacuated — as the war between Israeli troops and Hamas raged on.

Israeli troops said they raided Nasser Hospital acting on intelligence that the bodies of some of the people Hamas kidnapped on Oct. 7 might be there.

Israeli forces have killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians since the start of the current conflict, according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas killed some 1,200 people in Israel in its Oct. 7 attack, triggering the start of the war, and took hostages back to Gaza.

The Israeli military issued statements on Friday denying that it had damaged generators or turned off electricity. It also said that troops repaired a damaged generator, and helped a U.N. convoy deliver aid to the hospital — but the Gaza health ministry maintained the hospital still did not have power on Saturday morning.

The Israeli military also said it had found Hamas fighters and weapons at the hospital, although no hostage remains have yet been found yet.

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D. Parvaz
D. Parvaz is an editor at Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, she worked at several news organizations covering wildfires, riots, earthquakes, a nuclear meltdown, elections, political upheaval and refugee crises in several countries.