KHAN YUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thirty-one premature babies were evacuated from Gaza’s main hospital on Sunday and will be transferred to facilities in Egypt, the territory’s Health Ministry said. Dozens of other patients in serious condition remained stranded in the hospital, days after Israeli forces entered the complex.
The situation of the newborns in the Shifa hospital had caught the world’s attention after the publication of images of doctors trying to keep the little ones from getting cold. A power outage had knocked out incubators and other equipment, and food and medical supplies were running out as Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside the hospital.
World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media that the “very sick” babies were evacuated, along with six health workers and 10 family members. He indicated that they were taken to a hospital in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, where they are receiving urgent care.
A WHO team that visited Shifa hospital on Saturday said there were 32 babies in very serious condition, as well as trauma patients with serious infections in their wounds and others with spinal cord injuries who could not be transported.
Medhat Abbas, a ministry spokesman, confirmed the evacuation in a call with The Associated Press, without providing further details. The Palestinian Red Cross rescue service said it had evacuated 31 babies in coordination with United Nations agencies. He noted that they would be transferred to a hospital run by the United Arab Emirates in Rafah.
Reflecting the risk of movement within the coastal enclave, Doctors Without Borders said a convoy of employees and their families had been shot in Gaza City on Saturday. A family member of an employee was killed and another person was injured, according to the group.
About 2,500 displaced people, mobile patients and medical staff left the complex on Saturday morning, according to the WHO. Twenty-five workers were still in the facility with the patients.
“Patients and health staff we spoke to were terrified for their health and safety and pleaded for an evacuation,” said the agency, which described Shifa as a dead zone.
Israel claims Hamas has a large command center under and inside the Shifa hospital, amid its accusations that fighters use civilians as cover. He has described the site as a key target in his war to end the militants’ control over Gaza following their wide-ranging attack on southern Israel six weeks ago, which left about 1,200 dead and sparked the war.
Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations, and critics say the attacks show Israel recklessly endangering civilians. Thousands of people have been killed in Israeli attacks, and the besieged territory suffers from severe shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel.
Israeli troops who have been deployed to the hospital and searched its grounds for days said they had found weapons and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel. The AP could not independently verify the Israeli findings.
SHIP CONFISCATED IN THE RED SEA
Israeli forces reported that Houthi rebels in Yemen seized a cargo ship in the Red Sea but that there were no Israelis on board and it was not an Israeli vessel. A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the ship was from a British company.
There were no comments from the Houthis. Hours earlier, that Iran-backed group threatened to attack ships linked to Israel in the Red Sea.
A U.N. database says the ship’s owner is a Tel Aviv-based company called Ray Shipping Ltd. No one answered calls to that company on Sunday and the company did not respond to a written request for comment.
ATTACKS IN THE NORTH AND SOUTH
On the night of Saturday to Sunday, clashes were reported in the Jabaliya field. “There was constant noise of fire, gunshots and tank shells,” Yassin Sharif, who was taking shelter in a U.N.-run hospital in the camp, said by phone. “It was another night of terror.”
Dozens of people died the day before in the refugee camp when what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded United Nations shelter. AP photos at the scene show more than 20 bodies wrapped in bloody sheets.
The Israeli forces, which had repeatedly told the Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, limited themselves to saying that their troops were operating in the area “with the aim of attacking terrorists.” Israeli forces rarely comment on specific bombings.
In southern Gaza, an Israeli strike hit a residential building near the town of Khan Younis on Saturday, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.
MSF said its employees and their families were attempting to evacuate northern Gaza on Saturday in a clearly marked convoy, but turned around when gunshots rang out at a crowded Israeli roadblock. The caravan was attacked upon its return, said the group, which did not identify the attackers.
More than 11,500 Palestinians have died, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 are missing and are believed to have been buried in rubble. The count does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
HOSTAGES AND AID
Some 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, most of them civilians killed during the Hamas attack on October 7, in which the group took some 240 captives back to Gaza and destroyed Israelis’ sense of security. The army said 52 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
Hamas has freed four hostages, Israel has rescued one and the bodies of two were found near Shifa in an area where there was heavy fighting.
Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks to release the hostages. A White House official suggested Saturday that a deal would need to be completed before bringing large shipments of desperately needed aid to the territory.
“A release of a large number of hostages would result in a significant pause in the fighting … and a huge increase in humanitarian aid,” said Brett McGurk, Middle East coordinator for the White House National Security Council, in a conference in Bahrain.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Sunday that he was “confident” that an agreement would be reached soon and told reporters that “the issues in dispute, honestly, at the moment are more practical, logistics”.
More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, provides basic services to hundreds of thousands of refugees in schools and other facilities.