Premature babies evacuated from Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital

The Palestine Red Crescent Society has successfully evacuated 31 premature babies from the encircled al-Shifa hospital in the north of Gaza.

The body said it worked in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The babies were taken south, preparing for their transfer to the UAE-run Emirati Hospital in Rafah, close to the border with Egypt.

Unicef, also involved in the operation, said: “The newborns’ condition was rapidly deteriorating, and follows the tragic death of several other babies, and total collapse of all medical services at Al-Shifa.

“The newborns were transferred, following requests from the health authorities, in temperature-controlled incubators under the supervision of medical staff from Al-Shifa hospital to the Al-Helal Al-Emarati Hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza, where their condition is now being stabilizeed and they are being cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Unicef and partners are supporting the identification and registration of the babies to help trace and reunify them with their parents and family members where possible.”

A premature baby being fed after being transferred from Al-Shifa Hospital, which stopped providing services due to Israeli attacks, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Hospital in Rafah, Gaza (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty)

The al-Shifa Hospital has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a “death zone” following the visit of a joint United Nations (UN) humanitarian assessment team.

Evidence of shelling and gunfire, corridors filled with medical and solid waste, and a mass grave at the hospital’s entrance where more than 80 people are reportedly buried were found during an hour-long situational analysis at the Palestinian territory’s largest hospital – which is now occupied by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and largely evacuated – a WHO statement said.

It comes as Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, a humanitarian aid charity, reported that one person had been killed and another injured in an attack on a convoy of its staff members and their families who were attempting to evacuate from northern Gaza.

The French medical aid organisation said in a statement that its convoy of five “clearly marked” vehicles, made up of 137 people, including 65 children, had been turned away from the final checkpoint on its Israeli army-approved evacuation route.

Upon attempting to return to the organisation’s offices several miles away, two of its vehicles were later “hit” in what it called a “deliberate attack”. It is unknown who is responsible.

According to the WHO, 25 health workers and 291 patients remain in al-Shifa.

29 patients have serious spinal injuries and are unable to move without medical assistance, while the vast majority are victims of war trauma, many with severely infected wounds due to the hospital’s lack of infection control measures and unavailability of antibiotics.

i has been unable to independently verify these figures.

Once Gaza’s most advanced and well-equipped hosptial, al-Shifa has been left inoperational and incapable of admitting new patients due to a lack of clean water, fuel, medicines, food and other essential aid over the weeks since the Israel-Hamas conflict‘s most recent escalation of violence.

It was raided by the Israeli military, who alleged the site was hiding a Hamas “terror complex” and sitting atop a network of underground tunnels – claims Hamas and the hospital staff deny.

Since occupying al-Shifa, Israel has been facing pressure to prove its claim Hamas set up its main command centre in and under the hospital. So far, it has shown photos and video of weapons caches that it says were found inside, as well as what it said was a tunnel entrance.

An IDF statement on Saturday said it had returned “fuel, incubators, baby food, medicine, food and water” to the facilities, where thousands of internally displaced people seeking refuge on the hospital grounds had reportedly been issued with evacuation orders earlier in the day, prior to the WHO-UN visit.

It was not immediately clear where those who left the hospital had gone, with 25 of Gaza’s hospitals non-functional due to lack of fuel, damage and other problems and the other 11 only partially operational, according to the WHO.

The WHO’s statement said that additional missions were being arranged in the coming days to transport remaining patients to Nasser Medical Complex and European Gaza Hospital in the south of Gaza, where staff and resources are already “overburdened”.

The statement continued: “WHO reiterates its plea for collective efforts to bring an end to the hostilities and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

“We call for an immediate ceasefire, the sustained flow of humanitarian assistance at scale, unhindered humanitarian access to all of those in need, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the cessation of attacks on health care and other vital infrastructure.”

More than 200 healthcare professionals have been killed in Gaza as the death toll soars above 11,500, two thirds over them women and minors, according to Hamas-controlled health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble.

The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.