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Premature babies die as Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital loses power amid alleged IDF attacks

Israel denies bombarding major Gaza hospital — with a large neonatal care facility — that doubles as a refugee shelter

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 11 November 2023 20:22 GMT
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Gaza’s largest hospital suspends operations under siege

At least two babies have died in Gaza’s largest hospital as a result of downed electricity, as Israel continues to allegedly bombard the al-Shifa hospital, multiple sources said on Saturday.

"As a result of the lack of electricity, we can report that the neonatal intensive care unit has stopped working. Two premature infants have died, and there is a real risk to the lives of 37 other premature infants,” Physicians for Human Rights Israel said in a statement, describing the al-Shifa hospital as “besieged.”

“The picture we are now seeing at Shifa is no longer of a humanitarian catastrophe – it is a collective death sentence,” the Israeli’s doctors group added.

Dr Mohammed Obeid, a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) surgeon working out of the hospital, shared a smiliar account, according to a recording released by the aid group.

“We have two neonate patients who died actually because the incubator is not working because there is no electricity,” he said. “We can see the smoke around the hospital. They hit everything around the hospital. And they hit the hospital many times.”

Israel denied targeting the hospital, but said it’s engaged in fighting with Hamas in the area.

“There are clashes between IDF troops and Hamas terrorist operatives around the hospital,” Colonel Moshe Tetro, an Israeli Defence Ministry official, said in a video statement on Saturday. “There is no shooting at the hospital and there is no siege.”

Dr Obeid said that gunshots into the hospital had left patients with serious wounds, including a gash in the neck and a shot to the abdomen. An estimated 600 inpatients and 37 to 40 premature babies are in the hospital in desperate need of care, he added in the recording.

Patients and internally displaced people are pictured at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 10, 2023 (Ismail Zanoun / AFP)

An estimated 10,000 internally displaced people are sheltering at the hospital. Amid the continued total siege of Gaza, hospitals have been some of the few places with electricity and sporadic internet service, and civilians have sheltered there under the belief that medical facilities are less likely to be military targets because of international law and norms of war.

The IDF has accused Hamas of using al-Shifa as a command centre, which the group has denied.

“I personally spoke with the director of the hospital,” Col Tetro added. “I told him several times, we can coordinate for anyone who wants to leave the hospital safely.”

The hospital director offered a different account of the situation, telling Al Jazeera that Israel is targeting people inside the hospital, where operations have been suspended.

“We are minutes away from imminent death,” Muhammad Abu Salmiya told the outlet.

“One member of a medical crew who tried to reach the incubator to lend a helping hand to the babies born inside was shot and killed,” he said. “We lost a baby in the incubator, we also lost a young man in the intensive care unit.”

The Gaza health ministry has described the hospital as under “bombardment.”

An AFP live camera feed near the hospital compound captured gunfire and explosions throughout Saturday.

The situation at al-Shifa is the latest in a series of alleged intentional strikes on Gaza hospitals, as the IDF continued its advance into the territory throughout the weekend.

Airstrikes directly hit or landed near four hospitals and a school on Friday, according to Palestinian officials, including al-Shifa hospital, according to Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesperson at the Gaza health ministry.

Multiple bombardments struck al-Shifa on Friday, Dr Adnan Albursh, an orthopedic surgeon at the compound, told NBC News.

"Every time, every minute, we hear bombing around us,” he said. “They bombed the gate, the main gate of the hospital."

Speaking with the broadcaster, Israel blamed one of the explosions at al-Shifa on an errant strike from Palestinian militants, without providing evidence, while Hamas said IDF strikes were responsible, also without providing evidence.

Hospitals in the north of Gaza have turned into “a graveyard,” according to Mohammed Abu Mughaisib, deputy medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza.

“Some of the patients started to die because of the lack of electricity for the ventilators. There aren’t enough doctors to treat everyone,” he told The Washington Post. “They are planning to bury patients in Shifa hospital because there is no space, there is no way to go out, ambulances cannot move anymore.”

He added that strikes on another hospital, the al-Nasr pediatric care facility, forced medical workers to leave babies in incubators behind.

“The medical staff evacuated because of the shelling on the pediatric hospital, and they couldn’t save the babies to take them out, so they left five babies alone in the intensive care on the machines and the ventilators,” he said. “That’s the situation: leaving babies now alone on the ventilators.”

Israeli army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht told an evening briefing yesterday that the army “does not fire on hospitals”.

“If we see Hamas terrorists firing from hospitals we’ll do what we need to do. We’re aware of the sensitivity [of hospitals], but again, if we see Hamas terrorists, we’ll kill them,” he said.

Israeli forces have surrounded multiple hospitals in Gaza City, according to verified videos analysed by the Post.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society told the paper that patients at another hospital, al-Quds, also could not evacuate because of heavy fighting.

On Saturday, the IDF said it killed Ahmed Siam, a Hamas company commander it accused of holding civilians “hostage” in Gaza’s al-Rantisi hospital, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Palestinians arrive in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 11, 2023 (AFP )

Israel has urged civilians to flee northern Gaza to escape their ground assault, and has opened brief windows for civilians to use highways as humanitarian corridors to move further south.

Humanitarian officials have said the evacuation orders have given civilians impossibly little time, and Israel has allegedly struck buildings and a border crossing in the south of Gaza where civilians have taken shelter.

Thousands of Palestinian civilians are fleeing northern Gaza a day amid the intensifying Israel-Hamas war, in what critics of the conflict have compared to a second “Nakba.”

The Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic, is the name Palestinians give to the violent displacement of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages during the fighting surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, which resulted in the permanent displacement of more than half the Palestinian population, according to the UN.

“For many Palestinians, this exodus is reminiscent of the original displacement of more than 700,000 people from their towns and villages in 1948,” Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Over 70 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3m person population have left their homes since the war began a month ago, according to the Associated Press.

Around 700,000 people are living in roughly 150 UN buildings in the Gaza Strip, nearly 50 of which have been damaged in the fighting, including by Israeli air strikes.

Many of those fleeing northern Gaza now are descendants of those originally expelled during the fighting in 1948, which broke out amid the UN partition of British-controlled Palestine calling for the creation of two states. An estimated 70 per cent of current Gaza Strip residents are considered refugees.

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