31 ‘Very Sick’ Babies Have Been Evacuated From Gaza’s Largest Hospital

(AP) — Health officials said Sunday that 31 “very sick” premature babies were safely transferred from Gaza’s main hospital to another in the south and will later go to Egypt, as scores of critically wounded patients remained stranded there days after Israeli forces entered the compound.

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 had shut down incubators and other equipment, and food, water and medical supplies ran out as Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media the “very sick” babies were evacuated along with six health workers and 10 family members of staff. They were receiving urgent care in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The babies suffered from dehydration, vomiting, hypothermia and some had sepsis because they hadn’t received 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 on Monday for more specialised care, he said.

A WHO team that visited the hospital on Saturday said 291 patients were still there, including the babies. Others were trauma patients with severely infected wounds and those with spinal injuries who are unable to move. Four babies died in the two days before their visit, Zaqout said.

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The WHO said 25 medical staff remained, along with the patients who it said were “terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation.” The agency described Shifa as a death zone.

Later Sunday, the hospital’s head of plastic surgery, Dr Ahmed El Mokhallalati, said Israeli troops raided the surgical department, investigated staff and patients, and arrested one patient. The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the incident.

Israel has long alleged 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 that triggered the war.

Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations, and critics have held up the hospital as a symbol of what they call 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.

Israeli troops who have been based at Shifa and searching its grounds for days say they have found guns and other weapons, and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel shaft. The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify Israel’s findings.

Israel’s military said its forces had found about 35 tunnel shafts and a large number of weapons during operations in the Sheikh Ijlin and Rimal areas of Gaza.