‘I performed six amputations in one night’: London doctor recalls war horrors after 43 days in Gaza

Reconstructive surgeon believes up to 900 children in the territory have lost limbs since war broke out last month

Renowned war surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah returns from Gaza to provide eyewitness accounts from inside Al Ahli hospital and Al Shifa hospital
London surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah on his return from Gaza Credit: Simon Townsley

A British-Palestinian doctor who has returned to London after fleeing Gaza said he was forced to perform amputations on six children in one night, as he recounted the “horrendous” 43 days he spent in the heart of the war.

Prof Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, arrived in the territory in the early hours of October 9 – just two days after Hamas’ attack on Israel – to provide medical assistance. He eventually left on 18 November and is now back home in west London, where he lives with his family.

During his time in Gaza, he worked around the clock at the Al-Shifa and Al-Ahli hospitals, operating on victims of Israel’s intensive shelling and ground operation, which is estimated to have killed 14,800 people so far.

Prof Abu-Sittah believes up to 900 children in Gaza have undergone an amputation on their limbs since the beginning of the war, and he told the Telegraph after a press briefing on Monday that he had carried out this procedure on six children alone in one evening.

“By day four or five [of Israel’s military campaign], half of my operating list, which was around ten to twelve cases every day, were children,” he said.

“When you start operating on children, you know this is going to be around one of 10 to 15 surgeries a child will need before they reach adult age [and their bodies stop growing].”

Child amputees will face between 10 to 15 surgeries before they reach adulthood and their bodies stop growing Credit: Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images

Prof Abu-Sittah described how many of the people on his operation table were victims of fragmentary missiles fired by the Israelis and required guillotine amputations in “very tough” parts of their bodies – such as the mid thigh, where medics had to saw through a web of thick muscles, and the femur, the strongest bone in the body.

Fragmentation bombs are particularly deadly, as they erupt into a shower of small and fast-moving lethal metal fragments upon impact.

Throughout his time in Gaza, Prof Abu-Sittah provided regular updates to the Telegraph, detailing the collapse of the territory’s healthcare system.

“We eat when we can, just because you need to keep going and keep moving forward. You go to sleep knowing that the day after will look as bleak as the day before, but we live in hope,” he said in one voice message shared earlier this month.

He was working in Al-Ahli hospital when it became the last remaining functioning hospital in Gaza City and, at one point, was tasked with treating more than 600 patients alongside two other surgeons. He said he was working 17-hour shifts and was “exhausted to the point of pain”.

‘The end goal is to ethnically cleanse Gaza’

Now that he has returned to London, Prof Abu-Sittah has agreed to work with Scotland Yard to provide witness evidence of the “genocidal” war crimes that he claims Israel have committed.

He said that Israeli forces have used white phosphorus munitions, which is prohibited in warfare under international law, as he recognised the characteristic burns created by the weapon from when he treated victims in the 2009 Israel-Gaza war.

“This [war] is the difference between a flood and a tsunami. This was a tsunami and the other wars were just floods,” he told the Telegraph on Monday.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the end goal is to ethnically cleanse Gaza … The UK government has to insist medical staff be allowed into Gaza, it has to ensure a proper investigation of potential war crimes is done.”

Before the press conference began, journalists were shown a two-minute video, compiled of photos and video footage that Prof Abu-Sittah collected during his time in Gaza, that were deemed too graphic to share with the public.

The footage showed the aftermath of an attack on the Al-Ahli hospital. In the clip, the air is thick with smoke, the eerie red tint of an ambulance siren the only source of light. 

It cuts to inside the hospital’s clinical white corridors, filled with children and adults screaming and crying hysterically.

Prof Abu-Sittah has agreed to work with Scotland Yard to provide witness evidence of war crimes he claims Israel have committed Credit: Simon Townsley

The pictures collected by Prof Abu-Sittah meanwhile showed mutilated limbs covered with shrapnel wounds. In one, an arm can be seen with its hand blown off, flesh spilling onto the hospital bed. Another shows a small child’s lifeless body, stained black with dust.

Prof Abu-Sittah posted regular updates on the fighting that surrounded northern Gaza’s hospitals on X, formerly Twitter, saying that it was “critical” to describe the “sheer destruction and savagery” that was occurring.

He said he did not see any Hamas fighters at Al-Shifa hospital, whose grounds the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) say conceal the command centre of the terrorist organisation.

“At no stage did I see any armed police at Shifa, even the security men at Shifa, they were there just to police the number of relatives trying to get into the emergency department,” he said. 

He added that he walked around the hospital freely, travelling to the basement and storage facilities to collect medical items needed for his next surgery, and saw “nothing.”

The IDF has recovered the bodies of two Israeli hostages found close to Al-Shifa and an array of weapons, including explosives, which it claimed to have found within the hospital itself. 

It has also publicly shared footage of underground tunnels beneath the hospital which it says were used by Hamas terrorists.

On Monday, it was announced by Qatar’s foreign ministry that Israel and Hamas had agreed to extend the ceasefire by two days.

The deal will allow for the return of more Israeli hostages from Hamas captivity and the freeing of more jailed Palestinians. A statement from Hamas said that the truce had been prolonged under the same conditions as the original agreement.

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