TEL AVIV, Israel — Since Wednesday, dramatic footage of an Israeli military operation at a hospital in the southern Gaza Strip has shown scenes of chaos, with people running through dark hallways and doctors trying to escort limping patients to safety.

Among those remaining was Dr. Khaled al-Serr, a general surgeon who has frantically been trying to find ways to protect patients at Nasser Hospital.

He had been in contact with a group of specialist surgeons from all over the world who have been providing expertise and assistance via the phone messaging program WhatsApp to doctors in Gaza. For the past 3 1/2 weeks, doctors at Nasser have been unable to refer patients in need of specialized care elsewhere.

So they've been taking instructions from colleagues like Dr. Rebecca Inglis, an intensive care specialist in Oxford, as well as pediatric surgeons, neurosurgeons and more.

But on Thursday night, Serr's phone went dark.

Inglis' messages to him remain unreceived, and she describes his last messages to her as "absolutely desperate."

"No one can reach the ICU," read one.

"This ICU patient has just died because they cut all the electricity and another six patients is awaiting the same fate," said another.

He wrote that the Israeli army was inside the hospital, in the city of Khan Younis, and he and his colleagues were trying to communicate with them to allow for "sending nurses to help on manual ventilation" — manually squeezing air through a bag and a mask.

"At Nasser Hospital we have no electricity, no drinking water, even no tap water."

Serr begged for help from United Nations agencies: "Please we need urgent action now. Communicate with OCHA, U.N., WHO, any one can help."

He also wrote that he was having a tough time getting a signal to go online. And that, Inglis hopes, is why she hasn't heard from him.

NPR asked the Israeli military for comment on the situation Serr described in the hospital's intensive care unit. No response had been received by the time of publication.

The military did issue a statement on Friday evening, saying that it was unaware that the hospital generators weren't working until being told about it on Friday morning. The statement said that troops then "worked to repair the generator, while simultaneously Shayetet 13 special forces brought in an alternative generator to the hospital."

But Gaza's Health Ministry also issued a statement saying the hospital still had no electricity. And Inglis still hasn't heard from Serr.

She's worried about the surgeon's safety, and hopes he hasn't been detained as other Palestinian doctors have.

The Israeli military said it was operating on intelligence that said the dead bodies of hostages taken by the Palestinian group Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel were being kept there.

During a raid of the hospital Thursday, Israeli forces opened fire, killing a patient and wounding six more before they stormed the complex, according to The Associated Press.

The hospital had been under siege for almost a week, and its supplies of food and water were running out as more than a thousand displaced civilians took shelter there, along with hundreds of patients and staff.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, there's no power, no heat, and the remaining fuel supply has already run out. A statement from the ministry said that this leaves the lives of six patients on respirators, and two babies in incubators, in danger.

The Israeli military said it was providing a "safe corridor" for displaced Palestinians sheltering at the hospital to leave, and issued a statement saying it has "no intention of disrupting the hospital's function."

But Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, refuted that claim.

"Access to the hospital remains obstructed — there is no safe corridor for those in need. Two WHO missions have been denied in the last four days and we lost touch with the hospital's personnel," he tweeted on Wednesday.

"Nasser is the backbone of the health system in southern Gaza. It must be protected. Humanitarian access must be allowed," he added.

On Friday, the Israeli military released photos of men it said were Hamas militants found in the hospital, and said it found weapons there. Soldiers digging through rubble at the hospital had not yet uncovered any hostage remains.

Hospitals targeted

Last week, Israeli forces stormed another medical facility in Khan Younis, Al-Amal Hospital.

While patients were moved out of the hospital, with fewer medical facilities operating and virtually no humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip, there are few options for patients in need of treatment or surgery.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October, Israel's military has maintained that Hamas fighters are using hospitals as cover.

Israeli troops raided Gaza City's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, in November, saying that Hamas has used the facility — and tunnels beneath it — as a command center. This claim was also repeated by U.S. officials.

The Israeli military said it found tunnels and a cache of weapons, but no Hamas fighters. It remains unclear if Hamas ever used the hospital or its compound as a command center to launch its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

Hamas killed about 1,200 people that day, and kidnapped around 240, according to Israel's government. Since then, Gaza's Health Ministry says Israel's bombardment of the territory has killed at least 28,663 Palestinians.

Israel has been looking for hostages as well as Hamas fighters throughout the Gaza Strip.

On Jan. 30, Israeli soldiers disguised as women or wearing medical scrubs also carried out an operation at the Ibn Sina Hospital in the West Bank town of Jenin, killing three people they said were Hamas militants.

While hospitals are protected under laws of war, international law experts say, hospitals can lose certain protections if they are used for military purposes.

The U.N. Human Rights Office has expressed alarm over Israeli military operations at hospitals, saying that Israeli troops should use precautions when targeting medical facilities.

"Even if Israel contends that a medical facility has lost its protection as a result of being used for acts harmful to the Israeli forces, it must nevertheless comply with the principles of precautions and proportionality," it said in a statement Thursday.

Inglis started going into Gaza regularly in 2016 as part of a group of surgeons and medics from the United Kingdom who travel there to train new doctors, and said she is familiar with the crumbling state of the health care system there.

But this feels very different to her.

"What's been new about this conflict is the systematic way in which the health care system of Gaza appears to have been targeted," Inglis said.

"It's unbelievable that this is being done under the watchful gaze of the international community."

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