KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thirty-one “very sick” premature babies in critical condition have been transported to another hospital in and 291 patients remained stranded there days after Israeli forces raided the hospital.
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 caused by Israeli airstrikes had shut down incubators and other equipment, and food, water and medical supplies ran out.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media that the “very sick” babies were evacuated along with six health workers and 10 staff family members. They were taken in ambulances of the Palestinian Red Crescent to a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where they were receiving urgent care.
The babies suffered from dehydration, vomiting, hypothermia and some had sepsis because they didn’t receive any medication, and they had not been in “suitable conditions for them to stay alive,” said Mohamed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals. They’ll go to Egypt for more specialized care, he said.
A WHO team that visited the hospital on Saturday said 291 patients were still there, including the babies, trauma patients with severely infected wounds, and others with spinal injuries who are unable to move. Four babies died in the two days before their visit, according to Zaqout.
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.
More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. A further 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 release of a 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 coordinator for the Middle East, said at a conference in Bahrain.
More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, is struggling to provide basic services to hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in and around schools and other facilities. Seventeen of its facilities have been directly hit and 176 people reportedly killed, the agency said.