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Medics evacuate 31 premature babies from Gaza hospital

AFP
Monday, Nov 20, 2023

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian medics evacuated 31 premature babies from Gaza City´s war-torn Al-Shifa hospital on Sunday in a high-risk operation, the UN said, pledging to also move patients and staff who remain there.

The hospital, Gaza´s largest, has been described by the UN´s World Health Organisation (WHO) as a “death zone”, after it sent a team to visit the facility on Saturday. Mohammed Zaqut, director general of hospitals in Gaza, told AFP “all 31 premature babies in Al-Shifa hospital... have been evacuated” and said “preparations are under way” for them to enter Egypt.

It was also confirmed by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) which said the transfer had been carried out in coordination with United Nations agencies including the WHO. Al-Shifa hospital has become a focal point for Israeli operations, with the army claiming Hamas uses it as a base. Hamas, and medical staff, have denied the accusations.

Israel is seeking to destroy the Hamas militants behind the October 7 attacks that Israeli officials say killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw around 240 people taken hostage.

The Hamas health authority says Israel´s relentless military campaign has killed more than 12,300 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 31 “very sick” babies were moved out of Al-Shifa hospital in six PCRS ambulances under “extremely intense and high-risk security conditions”.

They were taken to a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah where they were “receiving urgent care in the neonatal intensive care unit,” he wrote on X, saying they were accompanied by “six health workers and 10 staff family members”.

The agency was planning “further missions... to urgently transport remaining patients and health staff out of Al-Shifa Hospital”, he added, once guarantees of safe passage are secured.

The WHO´s initial visit to Al-Shifa came after hundreds fled the hospital on Saturday following what Al-Shifa´s director said were Israeli army orders for it to be emptied. Israel denied ordering the move.

An AFP journalist at the scene saw crowds of sick, injured and displaced people walking towards the seafront, with the health ministry saying 120 patients had stayed behind, among them a number of premature babies.

“Many patients can not leave the hospital as they are in the ICU beds or the baby incubators,” Ahmed al-Mokhallalati, a doctor at the hospital, wrote Saturday on X, formerly Twitter.

Following its visit to Al-Shifa, the WHO said 291 patients and 25 health workers were still inside the hospital, figures issued several hours before the babies were evacuated.

Since November 11, when fuel supplies ran out at Al-Shifa, eight babies died due to the lack of electricity to run incubator units, the health ministry has said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said on Sunday five more soldiers had been killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip, raising the number of troop deaths there to 64 since the war began. All five died in northern Gaza, where its forces are engaged in a ground operation against Hamas militants, the military said.