(NEW YORK) — A single explosion resulting from an Israeli shelling in December destroyed more than 5,000 specimens in Gaza’s largest and oldest IVF clinic, according to the director of the medical center.

An estimate of 4,000 embryos and an additional 1,000 specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at the Al Basma center in Gaza City were lost, Dr. Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, the founder and director of the clinic, told ABC News.

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Among these were the embryos of 45-year-old Najwa Abu Hamada.

“Najwa came to our center in 2022. She had lost her 19-year-old son Khalil in a bombing near their home in Jabalia refugee camp. He was her only child and born after many failed IVF attempts,” said Dr. Ghalayini. “She was devastated. We did two operations free of charge for her, we froze her embryos.”

Abu Hamada started to prepare for her impregnation in 2023 but once the war started, the clinic had to pause everything.

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In February, Dr. Ghalayini received a call from Abu Hamada. “I had to give her the devastating news that her embryos were destroyed,” he recalled. “This was her only chance in life.”

Similar to Abu Hamada, the singular shell destroyed the hopes and dreams of many women struggling with infertility in Gaza, another face of the suffering that the female population of the strip has experienced since the aftermath of Oct. 7, when Israel began a retaliatory attack after Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack in southern Israel.

Over 10,000 women have been killed in Gaza since the war began, an April report from UN Women estimated. The unsanitary conditions, as well as limited assess to food and clean water, make pregnant women and their children, particularly vulnerable to complications and significant health risks.

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Dr. Ghalayini, 73, founded Al Basma in 1997, after being inspired by the work of his teachers, “I trained with the pioneers of in vitro fertilization, Mr. Patrick Steptoe and Professor Robert Edwards at the world’s first IVF clinic in 1983,” he told ABC News. The pioneering work of Steptoe and Edwards led to the first baby born via in vitro fertilization in 1978.

Al Basma was developed to become the main fertility center in Gaza, with over half of the treatments being carried out in the center. “We had an average of 60-70 patients a month in the last 5 or 6 years. Before that, it was 100 patients a month. We treated 50% of the patients of Gaza, while the remaining half were divided among the other eight [fertility centers],” Ghalayini told ABC News.

“We developed dramatically over the years despite Gaza being under Israeli siege,” 37-year-old Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma’s chief embryologist and IVF lab director, said.

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Due to the Israeli military onslaught, Dr. Ghalayini decided to close the center last November. “We told the patients who were due for an operation we will aspirate their eggs and freeze them because of the war. We estimate there were roughly 4,000 embryos and 1,000 eggs and sperm specimens stored in the nitrogen tanks at Al Basma.”

Ghalayini said there was shelling at Al Basma and the surrounding area in early December.

“All the equipment was destroyed. When one shell entered the embryology lab, it damaged everything. It blew up the liquid nitrogen tanks, which held the embryos, eggs and sperm. Everything was gone,” said Dr. Ghalayini.

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Pictures of the clinic in April show the extent of the destruction, with the embryology lab reduced to rubble.

“We don’t know if this was a deliberate targeting or not,” Ajjour added. “I want to emphasize the point that while this is a very ugly, inhumane and unprovoked act, it is part of a comprehensive, collective and harsh punishment borne by Palestinian civilians. It does not compare to the horrors of what is happening to them but fits in the larger pattern of loss and destruction.”

The Israel Defense Forces told ABC News the attack on the center is still being investigated.

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Both men are pleading for a permanent cease-fire.

Ajjour has an extra plea. “I’m asking fertility organizations around the world, which lead in humanitarian work as we all work for humanity, to please help us. The extent of destruction is so vast that we will not be able to rebuild and provide what we did before without their support. Just as they helped the Ukrainians in the Russian-Ukraine war – we have seen the stories of the help that was extended to the IVF clinics there. Help us too. “

As for GhaIayini, he is committed to supporting his 50 employees financially and is also working on raising funds to open a branch of Al Basma in Egypt or Qatar to support his center in Gaza.

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“The Palestinian people, who have been occupied for more than 70 years, have to be free. We want the free world to make us free, to help us go back to our homes so we can live in peace and safety.”

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