At least 30 premature babies were evacuated from Gaza’s main hospital on Sunday and will be transferred to facilities in Egypt, the territory’s Health Ministry said, as scores of other critically wounded patients remained stranded there days after Israeli forces entered the compound. The fate of the newborns at Shifa Hospital had captured global attention after the release of images showing doctors trying to keep them warm. A power blackout had 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 Organization 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. Medhat Abbas, a spokesman for the ministry, confirmed the evacuation of the babies in a phone call with The Associated Press, without providing further details. There was no immediate comment from the WHO, and it was not clear if all the babies had been evacuated.
Over 2,500 people left Al-Shifa Hospital
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 relative of a staff member was killed and another person was injured, 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, along 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.
Israel has long alleged that Hamas maintains a sprawling command post inside and under Shifa, part of its wider accusation that the fighters use civilians as cover. It has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza following the militant group’s wide-ranging attack into southern Israel six weeks ago, which killed over 1,200 people and triggered the war.
Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations, and critics have held up the hospital as a symbol of what they say is Israel’s reckless endangerment of civilians. Thousands have been killed in Israeli strikes, and there are severe shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel in the besieged territory.
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 couldn’t independently verify Israel’s findings.
(With inputs from agency)