At least 30 premature babies have been evacuated from Gaza’s main hospital and will be transferred to Egypt, Palestinian health officials say, as scores of other critically wounded patients remained stranded there days after Israeli forces entered the compound.
The fate of the newborns at Al 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 Organisation team that visited the hospital on Saturday (local time) 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.
Nearly 300 patients and 25 medics remain at Shifa hospital, desperate for evacuation.
Medhat Abbas, a spokesman for the ministry, confirmed the evacuation of 30 babies on Sunday (local time).
The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said it evacuated 31 babies in coordination with UN bodies. It said they would be transferred to a hospital run by the United Arab Emirates in the Egyptian border city of Rafah.
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 wounded, the aid group said.
About 2500 displaced people, mobile patients and medical staff left Al 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 Al Shifa as a death zone.
“The killing of so many civilians cannot be dismissed as collateral damage.
“Not in a kibbutz.
“Not in a refugee camp.
“And not in a hospital.”
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 1200 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.
Israel says it found Hamas weapons and equipment in a medical closet in Shifa hospital.
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 Associated Press couldn’t independently verify Israel’s findings.
Heavy clashes were reported in the built-up Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza overnight into Sunday.
“There was the constant sound of gunfire and tank shelling,” Yassin Sharif, who is sheltering in a UN-run hospital in the camp, said by phone.
“It was another night of horror.”
Dozens of people were killed in what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike on a crowded UN shelter in the Jabaliya camp the day before, according to witnesses. AP photos 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.”
More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble.
Around 1200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ October 7 attack, in which the group dragged some 240 captives back into Gaza and shattered Israel’s sense of security. The military says 52 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Rumours of a tentative hostage release agreement have been denied.