At least 30 premature babies evacuated from Gaza’s main hospital

19 November 2023, 13:14

Premature Palestinian babies in Shifa Hospital last Sunday
Gaza Hospital Evacuation. Picture: PA

The fate of the newborns at Shifa Hospital captured global attention after the release of images showing doctors trying to keep them warm.

At least 30 premature babies have been evacuated from Gaza’s main hospital and will be transferred to Egypt, Palestinian health officials said.

It comes as scores of other critically wounded patients remained stranded at Shifa Hospital days after Israeli forces entered the compound.

The fate of the newborns captured global attention after images showed doctors trying to keep them warm.

A power cut shut down incubators and other equipment, and food, water and medical supplies ran out as Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside the hospital.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) team that visited the hospital on Saturday said 291 patients were still there, including 32 babies in extremely critical condition, trauma patients with severely infected wounds and others with spinal injuries who are unable to move.

Health ministry spokesman Medhat Abbas confirmed the evacuation of 30 babies.

The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said it evacuated 31 babies in co-ordination with UN bodies.

It said they would be transferred to a hospital run by the United Arab Emirates in the Egyptian city of Rafah.

There was no immediate comment from the WHO and it was unclear if all the babies had been evacuated.

Israeli soldiers near the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday
Israeli soldiers near the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday (Leo Correa/AP)

Underscoring the perils of movement inside the coastal enclave, Doctors Without Borders said a convoy of clearly marked vehicles carrying staff and their families was fired upon in Gaza City on Saturday.

A staff member’s relative was killed and another person was hurt, the aid group said.

About 2,500 displaced people, mobile patients and medical staff left Shifa Hospital on Saturday morning, the WHO said. It said 25 medical staff remained with the patients.

“Patients and health staff with whom they spoke were terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation,” the agency said, describing Shifa as a death zone.

Palestinians evacuate an injured woman found under the rubble of a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday
Palestinians evacuate an injured woman found under the rubble of a destroyed house after an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday (Mohammed Dahman/AP)

Israel has long alleged that Hamas maintains a sprawling command post inside and under Shifa. It has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end the militants’ rule in Gaza following their wide-ranging attack into southern Israel six weeks ago, which triggered the war.

Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations.

Israeli troops who have been based at the hospital and searching its grounds for days say they have found guns and other weapons, and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel shaft.

The AP could not independently verify Israel’s findings.

Saturday’s mass departure was portrayed by Israel as voluntary, but the WHO said the military had issued evacuation orders, and some of those who left described it as a forced exodus.

“We left at gunpoint,” Mahmoud Abu Auf told the AP by phone after he and his family left the crowded hospital.

“Tanks and snipers were everywhere inside and outside.”

He said he saw Israeli troops detain three men.

Palestinians look for survivors inside the remains of a destroyed building
Palestinians look for survivors inside the remains of a destroyed building (Mohammed Dahman/AP)

Elsewhere in northern Gaza, dozens of people were killed in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp when what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded UN shelter on Saturday.

It caused massive destruction in the camp’s Fakhoura school, said wounded survivors Ahmed Radwan and Yassin Sharif.

“The scenes were horrifying. Corpses of women and children were on the ground. Others were screaming for help,” Mr Radwan said by phone.

AP photographs from a local hospital showed more than 20 bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets.

The Israeli military, which has repeatedly called on Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, said only that its troops were active in the area “with the aim of hitting terrorists”.

It rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it targets Hamas while trying to minimise civilian harm.

In southern Gaza, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building near the town of Khan Younis on Saturday, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.

More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants; Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.

A woman prays during heavy rain during a pro-Palestinian protest outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul on Saturday
A woman prays during heavy rain during a pro-Palestinian protest outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul on Saturday (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Around 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which the group also dragged some 240 captives back into Gaza.

The military says 52 Israeli soldiers have been killed.

Hamas has released four hostages, Israel has rescued one, and the bodies of two were found near Shifa in an area where there had been heavy fighting.

Israel, the United States and the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating over a hostage release for weeks.

On Saturday, a senior White House official suggested it would need to be completed before the entry of large amounts of desperately needed aid.

“A release of large number of hostages would result in a significant pause in fighting … and a massive surge of humanitarian relief,” Brett McGurk, the White House’s National Security Council co-ordinator for the Middle East, said at a conference in Bahrain.

Gaza’s main power station shut down early in the war and Israel has cut off electricity. That has left local authorities unable to operate water treatment centres, bakeries, hospitals and other critical infrastructure without fuel for generators, which has run low since Israel cut off all imports at the start of the war.

More than two thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, is providing basic services to hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in schools and other facilities.

Smoke rises after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip on Saturday
Smoke rises after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip on Saturday (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Over the weekend, Israel allowed UNRWA to import enough fuel to continue humanitarian operations for another couple of days, and to keep internet and telephone systems running.

UNRWA had been forced to put aid operations on hold on Friday during a communications blackout.

Gaza has received only 10% of its required food supplies each day in shipments from Egypt, according to the UN, and the water system shutdown has left most of the population drinking contaminated water.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel’s forces were expanding operations in Gaza City.

“With every passing day, there are fewer places where Hamas terrorists can operate,” he said, adding that the militants would learn that in southern Gaza “in the coming days”.

His comments were the clearest indication yet that the military plans to expand its offensive to southern Gaza, where Israel had told Palestinian civilians to seek refuge.

The evacuation zone is already crammed with displaced civilians and it was not clear where they would go if the offensive moved closer.

Palestinians look for survivors inside the remains of a destroyed building following an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday
Palestinians look for survivors inside the remains of a destroyed building following an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday (Mohammed Dahman/AP)

Even as it warns of a broadening offensive, Israel remains at odds with its main ally, the United States, over what to do with Gaza should it succeed in removing Hamas from power.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that the Israeli military would have “full freedom” to operate within the territory after the war, indicating it would at least temporarily reoccupy the territory from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005.

In an op-ed published on Saturday in The Washington Post, US President Joe Biden said Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited and governed under a “revitalised Palestinian Authority” while world leaders work toward a solution that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Mr Netanyahu’s government is strongly opposed to Palestinian statehood. The Palestinian Authority has said it would only return to govern Gaza — where Hamas routed its forces in 2007 — as part of a comprehensive two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.

By Press Association

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