Gaza war: Premature babies evacuated from al-Shifa hospital

UN personnel looking after one of the babies
The fate of the babies has often been mentioned as al-Shifa ran out of fuel and stopped crucial services

Thirty-one premature Palestinian babies have been evacuated from Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as a "death zone".

The babies have been taken to an Emirati hospital in the southern city of Rafah, close to the Egyptian border.

Hundreds of people, including patients, left from al-Shifa on Saturday.

The hospital - the territory's largest and most modern - is under the control of Israeli troops.

They have been searching the complex for evidence that it served as headquarters of Hamas.

On Saturday, hundreds of people, including some patients, evacuated the hospital, but some 300 critically ill people remained as well as 33 premature babies. A Red Crescent spokeswoman told the BBC that one baby then died on Friday evening and another on Saturday morning.

On Sunday the 31 surviving babies were evacuated by the Red Crescent in coordination with the UN.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the babies were "very sick", had been moved under "extremely intense and high-risk security conditions", and were now "receiving urgent care in the neonatal intensive care unit" in Rafah.

Dr Mohammad Zaqout, general director of hospitals in the Gaza Strip, told AP some of the babies were dehydrated or had developed gastritis due to unsanitised water. Lack of medications had caused others to develop sepsis, and some had hypothermia as they could not be placed in incubators.

The babies had been accompanied by six health workers and 10 staff family members, Dr Tedros said.

Doctors at al-Shifa had previously said newborns had died after power for incubators was cut off due to a lack of fuel.

Red Crescent spokeswoman Nebal Farsakh told the BBC that some of the premature babies' parents had been killed in Israeli air strikes. The BBC is not able to independently verify this.

She said the surviving parents had been ordered to leave Gaza City - where al-Shifa hospital is located - before the babies' evacuation, and their current whereabouts were unknown.

A Gaza health ministry Facebook page urged the babies' parents to rejoin their babies at the hospital in Rafah.

Israel has not yet commented, though it previously said it would help evacuate babies to a "safer hospital".

The WHO was planning further missions to take the remaining patients and staff out of al-Shifa once safe passage guarantees had been secured, he said.

Al-Shifa's hospital director Dr Muhammad Abu Salima has called on the WHO and the UN to help the medical teams and patients "leave this desolated place".

He told BBC Arabic there were about 25 medical staff left at the hospital, but that without water and electricity they were unable to properly care for the hundreds of remaining patients.

"The hospital, now, is a ghost house in the full sense of the word," he said.

"Corpses are spreading out in the emergency department, patients are screaming, the medical staff is quite helpless, while the army is walking freely around in the hospital," he said.

Israel has said Hamas has a command centre under al-Shifa - a claim Hamas has denied - but has not yet provided substantial evidence of this.

Later on Sunday the Israeli military released footage which it said showed a "55m-long terror tunnel, 10m deep underneath the Shifa hospital". The footage shows a tunnel leading to a door. The IDF said investigations were "continuing to uncover the route of the tunnel".

Earlier this week, Israel military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, said it could take weeks to fully search the medical complex.

Hamas, classified as a terrorist organisation in many Western countries, attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 240 hostage.

Israel has launched a massive retaliatory operation - involving air and artillery strikes as well as ground troops - with the aim of eliminating Hamas.

The Hamas-run health ministry says the death toll in Gaza since then has reached 12,300. More than 2,000 more are feared to be buried under rubble.

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