Names written on children’s bodies speak to the fears of Gazan parents amid the Israel-Hamas war

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Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic descriptions

The bodies of three children lie on a steel tray inside what appears to be a Gaza hospital morgue, one leg of their trousers pushed up to reveal writing in black ink on their skin.

He said parents were worried that “anything could happen,” and no one would be able to identify their children.

“This means that they feel they are targeted at any moment and can be injured or martyred,” Al Masri added.

The black ink is a small sign of the fear and desperation felt by parents in the densely populated enclave as Israel continues to pound it with relentless airstrikes in retaliation for the October 7 Hamas attacks.

The supervisor of the room at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital where dead bodies are washed described Sunday as “an exceptional day.”

“What we noticed today is that many parents writing the names of their children on their legs so they can get identified after airstrikes and if they get lost. This is a new phenomenon that just started in Gaza.”

“Many of the children are missing, many get here with their skulls broken … and it’s impossible to identify them, only though that writing do they get identified.”

Over the last two weeks hundreds of children have been pulled from the wreckage of pancaked buildings hit by airstrikes in what is one of the most densely populated places in the world, many of them made unrecognizable by their injuries.

With Israel continuing its “complete siege” of the impoverished territory and crucial supplies running dangerously low, doctors in Gaza hospitals have been forced to operate without painkillers, according to Doctors Without Borders.

“In terms of pain management, it’s not happening. We currently have people being operated on without having morphine. It just happened to two kids,” Cans said. “We have a lot of kids that are unfortunately among the wounded, and I was discussing with one of our surgeons, who received a 10-year-old yesterday, burnt on 60% of the body surface, and he didn’t end up having painkillers.”

“There is no justification at all to block these essential medicines to reach the population,” Cans continued.

He also acknowledged “terrible” reports that Gazan parents have resorted to writing their childrens’ names on their limbs in the event that either they or the children are killed. He added that colleagues had told him families were sleeping in the same room as “they want to live together or die together.”

Health workers have also started seeing the impact of fuel shortages. “Fuel is essential for the water plants in order to desalinate to water … If you don’t have fuel, you don’t have quality water,” Cans said, adding many were now drinking untreated water, leading to outbreaks of diarrhea.

In a video released by Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health on Sunday. Dr. Fu’ad al-Bulbul, head of the neonatal department unit at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, warned that most of the infants under his care would perish if fuel runs out.

“If the electricity is stopped, there will be catastrophic events inside this unit. Most of the babies depending on ventilators will die because we can save only one, two babies, but we cannot save all babies,” Al-Bulbul said in the video.

His department houses 45 incubators and predominantly cares for preterm babies resulting from high-risk pregnancies.

By Sunday, his hospital had run out of surfactant and caffeine citrate Al-Bulbul said, both commonly used to relieve breathing issues in preterm babies.

Most infants are critically ill and his exhausted medical team has worked 18 straight days, he added.

Hospitals in crisis

More than 300 people sought help at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah, Gaza after Israel dropped bombs nearby Saturday night into Sunday, said Dr. Iyad Issa Abu Zaher, the hospital’s director general.

The situation has become “catastrophic,” he added.

“It’s impossible for any hospital in the world to admit this number of injured. There is no room or hospital beds for these injuries. The injured are at the door of operation theater rooms and on top of each other, each waiting their turn for an operation,” he lamented.

Israel declared a “complete siege” of Gaza two weeks ago in response to Hamas’ attack, bombarding the enclave with airstrikes and shutting off the entire population’s access to food, water and power.

At least 1,400 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the Hamas assault, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, and more than 200 were taken hostage.

The death toll in Gaza since October 7 has risen to more than 4,650 with more than 14,245 wounded, according to the Ministry of Health in the enclave, where half the 2.2 million population is under 18.

Hospitals have since faced tremendous challenges, from caring from the overwhelming number of injured, to accessing life-saving medical supplies as bombs rain down and generators run perilously low on fuel.

The first convoys of aid trucks were allowed into Gaza from Egypt over the weekend, but none of the 34 vehicles that passed through the Rafah crossing were carrying fuel supplies.

The territory normally receives 455 aid trucks per day, the United Nations said, which means 7,280 trucks should have arrived in those 16 days. In other words, Gaza has received half of 1% – one two-hundredth – of the amount of aid it normally gets.

Humanitarian groups have also stressed that what was delivered over the weekend was nothing close to what’s needed.

“It is only a small beginning and far from enough,” the World Health Organization said in a statement Saturday.

On Sunday, the UN agency aiding Palestine refugees cautioned that its fuel reserves would run out in three days.

Impossible to evacuate

Israel has repeatedly warned residents to evacuate the northern part of Gaza ahead of an expected ground incursion by the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Red Crescent says that the Israeli military issued three evacuation orders on Friday for the Al-Quds hospital, which is treating more than 400 patients and providing shelter for around 12,000 displaced civilians.

Farsakh said that 24 hospitals, including the Al-Quds, are under the threat of “being bombed at any second due to Israeli evacuation orders.”

The Al-Quds Hospital’s administration also said the Israeli army had repeatedly contacted them demanding the immediate evacuation of the hospital in preparation for a nighttime airstrike.

Asked for comment, the IDF responded by saying that it requested residents in the northern area of the Gaza Strip to evacuate “in order to mitigate civilian harm.”

“Hamas intentionally embeds its assets in civilian areas and uses the residents of the Gaza Strip as human shields,” the IDF statement added.

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