31 premature babies are evacuated from Al-Shifa Hospital to southern Gaza
Updated November 19, 2023 at 10:28 AM ET
TEL AVIV, Israel — A team of medical and humanitarian aid groups successfully evacuated 31 premature babies from Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza on Sunday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society announced.
They were transported to the south of Gaza to the Emirates Hospital in Rafah by PRCS ambulances, the group said.
The evacuation was organized by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Just a day earlier, a joint United Nations humanitarian assessment team, led by the WHO, entered Al-Shifa to see first-hand the dire circumstances of the facility, the groups said.
They found piles of medical and solid waste filling the crowded corridors of Gaza's largest hospital, according to the WHO. The team saw a mass grave by the hospital's entrance and was told at least 80 bodies were lying there, the WHO said.
This team's trip only lasted an hour and was "deconflicted" with Israel's military to ensure safe passage, the group said.
In that time, they found that several patients have died in the previous two to three days due to medical services shutting down in the facility, according to the WHO. And now there are just 25 health workers for the 291 remaining patients. The premature babies were considered to be in "extremely critical condition," the WHO said.
The hospital reported it lost power after running out of fuel to run their generators this past week, causing the death of some patients.
U.N. representatives described the formerly advanced and best equipped referral hospital in Gaza now as a "death zone."
WHO working to guarantee safe passage of remaining patients
Al-Shifa has transformed into a focal point of Israeli military operations in recent days. As the military increases its operations in Gaza, the U.N. team is working to safely evacuate the remaining patients at the hospital.
"Over the next 24–72 hours, pending guarantees of safe passage by parties to the conflict, additional missions are being arranged to urgently transport patients from Al-Shifa to Nasser Medical Complex and European Gaza Hospital in the south of Gaza," the WHO said in a statement on Saturday. "However, these hospitals are already working beyond capacity, and new referrals from Al-Shifa Hospital will further strain overburdened health staff and resources."
The Israeli military has told Palestinians in Gaza to evacuate further south along a so-called safety corridor. Evidence shows that Israeli airstrikesand artillery fire occur daily in the very areas Israel has said are "safer" for civilians. Those attacks have hit schools, residential towers and overcrowded U.N. shelters.
The Israel's military has claimed that Hamas turned the tunnels underneath the hospital into a command center and used patients and staff to provide cover for its militants. On Wednesday, Israel released video of weapons it said it found in one of the tunnels, but so far have not revealed proof that it was a sophisticated command center. Hamas has denied using Al-Shifa as a command center.
Earlier Saturday, the Israel's military issued evacuation orders to the remaining 2,500 people sheltering on Al-Shifa's hospital grounds. Those civilians, along with some patients and hospital staff, had vacated by the time the U.N. team arrived for their visit, the WHO said.
Gaza's health ministry said on Sunday that 12,200 people in Gaza had been killed in Israel's attacks over the past six weeks. Another 4,000 people are missing "and may be trapped or dead under the rubble," health authorities said.
As part of the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas, nearly 240 people were kidnapped. Negotiations over a possible cease-fire that would allow people in Gaza to move about safely and for hostages to be handed over back to Israel is still in the works.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday said there was "no deal on the table and I can't expand beyond that."
White House National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson disputed a report by The Washington Post that said a deal between the U.S., Israel and Hamas had been tentatively reached.
Watson said, "We have not reached a deal yet, but we continue to work hard to get to a deal."
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