AN AYRSHIRE MP has described the moment she discovered that a hospital building in Gaza where she used to work had been bombed.

Dr Philippa Whitford was just about to begin a conference call with staff at Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital when word came through that it had been bombed.

According to Palestinian health officials, at least 471 people were killed in the blast in Gaza City on Tuesday, October 17.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the attack, but Israel denied this, and said the bombing was caused by a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad denied any of its rockets were involved.

Dr Whitford said her first thoughts on hearing of the attack were of her friends at the hospital - people she had known since 1991/92, when the then breast cancer surgeon volunteered in Gaza alongside her husband.

The Central Ayrshire MP had made repeated visits to Palestine since then, helping set up a breast cancer unit there in recent years.

She has been told her friends who still work at Al-Ahli were not among the hundreds of people who died in the strike, which followed the brutal Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 which killed 1,300 people.

Israel has ordered the evacuation of the north of Gaza - including hospitals - as the country's government says it is preparing to "wipe out Hamas".

Ayr Advertiser: Dr Whitford operating in Gaza a few years agoDr Whitford operating in Gaza a few years ago (Image: Contributed)

Dr Whitford said: “I condemn what Hamas did in southern Israel. It was horrific. Barbaric. And I have been a Palestinian justice supporter for decades.

“But you can’t follow one atrocity with another atrocity. If you follow the ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy, we all end up blind.”

The MP said: “When I got word of what happened at Al-Ahli on Tuesday evening, it was just before I was meant to be taking part in a live webinar with the hospital, starting at 6pm.

“That was when I was told what had happened. The webinar was meant to be about the breast cancer unit I helped set up with Medics for Palestine, then had changed to talk about the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“I haven’t heard from the people I know from the hospital, but I have been told they are alive and well, thankfully.”

Dr Whitford continued: “In Gaza, we are talking about two million people squashed into an area of land which is 25 miles long and five miles wide. That’s like Ardrossan to Ayr, but taking in Tarbolton.

“Now the Israelis are saying the 1.1 million people in Gaza City and north of the Wadi should move to the south.

"That makes no sense. They are still bombing the south. It is not possible to claim it is a safe zone.

“They have told 22 hospitals in the north to evacuate. They have been told to decant into 12 hospitals in the south. It is not possible to move these people.”

The SNP MP, who announced earlier this year that she would be standing down at the next UK general election, has supported Palestine for many years.

Ayr Advertiser: Al-Ahli Hospital after the blastAl-Ahli Hospital after the blast (Image: PA)

She revealed: “My husband and I worked at the hospital in 1991/92 for a year and a half, myself as a surgeon and my husband as an anaesthetist.”

Regarding the blame for the hospital bombing, she said: “It has to be investigated, but we may never know – or at least not for a while. It is claim and counter-claim.

“The first mention of the incident was on Twitter, claiming it was a success for the Israeli Government. They said they had targeted a hospital, then quickly removed the post.

“Then it was a mistake by Hamas, and then it was Islamic Jihad to blame.

 “Ahli Arab was also hit last Saturday, thankfully without any injuries. But that implies hospitals are still in danger."

Israel imposed a blockade cutting off electricity and most water in Gaza, and stopped food and medicine deliveries, following the surprise attack by Hamas on October 7 in which at least 1,400 Israelis were killed, including 260 people who were attending a music festival, while at least 200 people, mostly civilians, were taken hostage.

“I was last in Gaza in 2019," Dr Whitford said.

"Now this blockade means the humanitarian situation is appalling. Raw sewage going into the sea, no power, food or electricity.

“Such a collective punishment is against the Geneva Convention.

“I have absolute sympathy with the rage Israelis feel, but governments are supposed to step back and ask ‘what should we do?’.

“What is happening now is an absolute atrocity and I am so disappointed that leading UK politicians such as Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have given Israel carte blanche.

“The real enemy is Hamas, not Palestinian citizens.”

Ayr Advertiser: Dr Whitford

She said one of the politicians who made the right response to the atrocities on both sides of the border was First Minister Humza Yousaf, whose wife’s parents remain trapped in Gaza.

Israeli forces have carried out their fiercest bombardment of Gaza in response to the Hamas attack on their territory, killing more than 3,000 Palestinians, including an estimate of 1,000 children.

The MP said: “We need to have a ceasefire, and we need to see that Hamas abides by that, as well as Israel.

“I call on Hamas to release their hostages. The life of a Palestinian child is worth just as much as an Israeli child.

“As to the hospital bombing, I hope there is a genuine investigation.”