Health officials said 31 premature babies in “extremely critical condition” were safely transferred Sunday from Gaza’s main hospital and will go to Egypt, while more than 250 patients with severely infected wounds and other urgent conditions remained stranded. days after Israeli forces entered the compound to look for Hamas operations there.
The plight of the children, coupled with Israeli claims against Shifa Hospitalthey have become powerful symbols in the devastating war between Israel and Hamas. An Israeli offensive has taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilians, while Israel has accused Hamas of using Shifa and other hospitals as headquarters for military operations.
Newborns at the hospital, where power was cut and supplies ran out as Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside, were receiving urgent care in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. In some cases they suffered from dehydration, hypothermia and sepsis, said Mohamed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals. Four other children died in the two days before the evacuation, he said.
31 premature babies from Al-Shifa Hospital, which stopped providing services due to Israeli attacks, are transferred to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Hospital in Rafah, Gaza, on November 19, 2023. (Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib /Anadolu via Getty Images )
A World Health Organization team that visited Shifa for an hour on Saturday said the hospital’s corridors were filled with medical and solid waste, increasing the risk of infection for patients who were “terrified for their safety and health and asked for evacuation.” Twenty-five employees were left behind.
The U.N. agency said the vast majority of patients had amputations, burns or other trauma, and many wounds were severely infected and antibiotics were unavailable. Missions were planned to evacuate remaining people in southern Gaza over the next 24 to 72 hours, “pending guarantees of safe passage,” the WHO said.
Later Sunday, the Israeli military said it had strong evidence to support its claims that Hamas maintains a large command post in and under Shifa. Israel has described the hospital as a key target in its war to end Hamas rule in Gaza after that of the militant group large-scale attack in southern Israel six weeks ago.
The Army said it found a 55-meter (60-yard) tunnel about 10 meters beneath the hospital’s 20-acre complex, which includes several buildings, garages and a plaza. The tunnel included a ladder, a blast-proof door and a firing hole that could be used by snipers.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the Israeli findings, which included security camera video showing what the military said were two foreign hostages, one Thai and one Nepalese, taken to hospital following the attack. October 7.
The army also said an independent medical report determined that a female Israeli soldier, Cpl. Noa Marciano, whose body was recovered in Gaza last week, was killed by Hamas in hospital. According to Israeli intelligence assessment, Marciano had previously been wounded in an Israeli attack on November 9 that killed her abductor. Her injuries were not life-threatening but she was later killed by a Hamas militant in Shifa, the army said.
Hamas and hospital staff had previously denied allegations of a command post under Shifa. Critics describe the hospital as a symbol of what they call Israel’s reckless endangerment of civilians. Thousands of people in Gaza have been killed in Israeli attacks and there is a severe shortage of food, water, medicine and fuel in the besieged territory.
Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, rejected the Israeli army’s announcement and did not deny that Gaza has hundreds of kilometers of tunnels. However, he said, “the Israelis said there is a command and control center, which means the issue is bigger than just a tunnel.”