Dozens of babies rescued from Shifa
Premature newborns transferred to Egypt as Israeli offensive intensifies at Gaza’s main hospital
NAJIB JOBAIN AND SAMY MAGDY
Health officials said 31 premature babies in “extremely critical condition” were transferred safely Sunday from Gaza’s main hospital and will go to Egypt, while over 250 patients with severely infected wounds and other urgent conditions remained stranded days after Israeli forces entered the compound to look for Hamas operations. The plight of the babies, along with the Israeli claims against Shifa hospital, have become potent symbols in the devastating war between Israel and Hamas. An Israeli offensive has taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilians, while Israel has accused Hamas of using Shifa and other hospitals as headquarters for military operations. The newborns from the hospital, where power was cut and supplies ran out while Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside, were receiving urgent care in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. They had dehydration, hypothermia and sepsis in some cases, said Mohamed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals. Four other babies died in the two days before the evacuation, he said. A World Health Organization team that visited Shifa said most of the remaining patients had amputations, burns or other trauma. Plans were being made to evacuate them in coming days. Later Sunday, Israel’s army said it had strong evidence supporting its claims that Hamas maintains a sprawling command post inside and under Shifa. Israel has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza. The army said it found a 55-metre tunnel about 10 metres under the hospital’s 20-acre complex, which includes several buildings, garages and a plaza. It said the tunnel included a staircase, blast-proof door and a firing hole that could be used by snipers. The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify Israel’s findings, which included security camera video showing what the military said were two foreign hostages, one Thai and one Nepalese, taken to the hospital following the Oct. 7 attack. The army also said an independent medical report had determined that Israeli army Cpl. Noa Marciano, whose body was recovered in Gaza, had been killed by Hamas in the hospital. Marciano had been injured in an Israeli strike Nov. 9 that killed her captor, according to Israel’s intelligence assessment. The injuries were not life-threatening but she was then killed by a Hamas militant in Shifa, the army said. Hamas and hospital staff have denied the allegations of a command post under Shifa. Critics describe the hospital as a symbol of what they call Israel’s reckless endangerment of civilians. Thousands have been killed in Israeli strikes in Gaza, which is severely short of food, water, medicine and fuel. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed the Israeli military’s announcement and didn’t deny that Gaza has hundreds of kilometres of tunnels. However, he said, “the Israelis said there was a command and control centre, which means that the matter is greater than just a tunnel.” About 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians during the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas dragged some 240 captives back into Gaza and shattered Israel’s sense of security. The military says 63 Israeli soldiers have been killed, including 12 over the past 24 hours. Hamas has released four hostages from about 240 captives, Israel has rescued one, and the bodies of two were found near Shifa. Meanwhile, a group of 135 people with ties to Canada desperate to flee escalating violence in the Gaza Strip were officially cleared to leave the besieged territory Sunday, though there was no immediate word on how many were able to make the trip. Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest efforts to get Canadians through the Rafah land crossing into Egypt, but the names of 135 Canadians were on a list of foreign passport holders cleared for the journey as of Sunday. That list is updated daily by Gaza’s General Authority for Crossings and Borders. Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating a hostage release for weeks. “We are hopeful that we can get a significant number of hostages freed in the coming days,” Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, told ABC’s “This Week.” Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said the sticking points were “more practical, logistical.” Israel’s three-member war cabinet is to meet with representatives of the hostages’ families on Monday evening. Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the southern Red Sea and took its 25 crew members hostage Sunday, an action that raised fear the region’s tensions heightened by the war were playing out on a new maritime front. The Iran-backed rebel group said it would continue to target ships connected to Israel. Israeli officials said no Israelis were aboard the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader, which had a mix of foreign crew. Heavy clashes were reported in the built-up Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. “There was the constant sound of gunfire and tank shelling,” Yassin Sharif, who is sheltering in a UN-run hospital there, said by phone. The commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, said 24 people were killed the day before in what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike on a UN-run school in Jabaliya. The Israeli military, which has repeatedly called on Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, said only that its troops were active in the area “with the aim of hitting terrorists.” “This war is having a staggering and unacceptable number of civilian casualties. … This must stop,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement on that strike and another on a UN-run school within 24 hours. More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried in rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants; Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.