Premature infants at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital face dire consequences as the facility runs out of power in the neonatal unit. Additionally, hundreds of patients are trapped as Israeli troops and Hamas fighters engage in battle near the compound, exacerbating an already critical situation.
Tragically, a premature baby and two intensive care patients succumbed to the lack of oxygen caused by a fuel depletion affecting the hospital’s electric generator, according to reports from the Palestinian news agency WAFA on Monday (13 Nov).
This marks an alarming escalation in the death toll, reaching 15 within 48 hours, comprising six premature babies and nine intensive care patients.
Al-Shifa hospital staff are waging a battle to sustain newborns’ lives and warmth amid a critical shortage of oxygen.
With supplies depleted, they resort to manually transferring infants from the neonatal unit’s incubators to another section, wrapping them in foil and positioning them near hot water in a desperate effort to preserve life in these dire conditions.
The hospital’s director, Dr Muhammad Abu Salmiya, painted a grim picture, stating, “There is no more water, food, milk for children and babies… the situation in the hospital is catastrophic.”
The siege on al-Shifa Medical Center, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, persists with relentless Israeli military actions.
Presently, over 60 patients are in intensive care, with more than 30 infants in the premature and nursery ward, and over 500 patients in the hospital’s dialysis department.
Amid the distressing situation, Al Jazeera reports that the parents of these infants were part of the population compelled to evacuate northern Gaza.
The environment within al-Shifa Hospital has been described by doctors as reminiscent of a warzone, with Israeli forces surrounding the facility.
A distressing account from a trapped staff member at Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, as reported by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), reveals a grave situation.
Shockingly, the statement alleged the presence of a sniper who had deliberately targeted patients, leading to severe gunshot wounds.
"We need a guarantee that there is a safe corridor because we saw some people trying to leave Al-Shifa [Hopsital], they killed them, they bombed them, the sniper killed them…If they give us guarantees and evacuate the patients first, we will evacuate.” – MSF Staff #Gaza
— Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (@MSF_canada) November 13, 2023
According to Al Jazeera, Israel’s military spokesman has stated a commitment to assisting infants in the pediatric department to reach a safer hospital, suggesting a potential evacuation.
This announcement comes in the wake of earlier statements by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, asserting the completion of the encirclement of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. These forces are reportedly operating within the city, particularly in the outskirts of al-Shifa Hospital.
Furthermore, Netanyahu claimed that his armed forces have successfully targeted and neutralized 2,000 individuals labelled as terrorists, including senior commanders who were allegedly involved in orchestrating the tragic massacre on October 7.
Battles around Gaza’s largest hospital leave many trapped
On 7 October, Hamas launched a wave of attacks on Israel that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians.
Israel’s relentless campaign in response has killed at least 11,360 people in Gaza, including 4,609 children, according to WAFA.
As reported by AFP, on Sunday (12 Nov), witnesses at the al-Shifa hospital confirmed that “violent fighting” raged throughout the night.
The sounds of small arms fire and aerial bombardments were echoing across the sprawling complex, amid reports that the infirm — including children — were dying for lack of basic provisions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies said as many as 3,000 patients and staff are sheltering inside without adequate fuel, water or food.
‘No longer functioning’
“Regrettably, the hospital is not functioning as a hospital anymore,” said WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, after making contact with on-the-ground staff.
“It’s been three days without electricity, without water,” he said, describing the situation inside as “dire and perilous.”
Israel says that Hamas militants — who also took 240 people hostage during their 7 October attacks — are hiding inside the facility and underground tunnel complexes.
President Isaac Herzog has gone as far as describing Al-Shifa as Hamas’s operational “headquarters”, but denied that Israeli forces had targeted the facility.
Youssef Abu Rish, deputy health minister in the Hamas government, on Sunday said three more premature babies had died along with six other patients who had been in critical condition.
“We fear the toll will rise further by morning,” he said.
Across Gaza City at the Al-Quds hospital the picture was also said to be dire, with the Palestinian Red Crescent warning it was now out of service due to lack of generator fuel.
Twenty of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “no longer functioning”, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemned Hamas for using “hospitals and civilians as human shields”, while urging Israel to show “maximum restraint”.
With Israel facing intense pressure to minimise civilian deaths and suffering, the military on Sunday announced the opening of a “self-evacuation corridor” from Al-Shifa southward.
Tens of thousands of Gazans have already fled from the north of the territory under Israeli orders.
However, it is unclear what provisions there would be for the sick and injured to be transported from Al-Shifa.
The Israeli army also said its ground soldiers had hand-delivered 300 litres of fuel to the hospital “for urgent medical purposes”.
The military shared grainy night-time footage of combat troops hauling jerry cans and leaving a dozen or more outside a building.
AFP was unable to independently verify the footage, or Israel’s claim that Hamas “forbade the hospital from taking it.”
Only a handful of trucks carrying fuel had been let into Gaza since October 7, with Israel concerned fuel deliveries would be used by Hamas militants.
Al-Shifa director Mohammad Abu Salmiya told journalists the Israeli claims were “lies”.
The 300 liters the army said had been delivered would power generators for “no more than quarter of an hour” anyway, Abu Salmiya said.
Inside the hospital, AFP last week witnessed the sick and injured on gurneys that packed corridor walls.
The courtyard of the emergency ward was dotted with people and piles of rubbish lay uncollected.
Some of the thousands displaced by the fighting camped at the facility using make-shift kitchens and what few supplies they had.
Almost 1.6 million people — about two-thirds of Gaza’s population — have been internally displaced since 7 October, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA.