In a ward in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, all too close to pitched battles between Israeli troops and Hamas gunmen, lie some of the Palestinian enclave’s most vulnerable people, hospital officials say: roughly three dozen premature babies, the incubators needed to keep them alive now without power.
Al-Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital complex, has been cut off from electricity for days. Israel has not allowed fuel — which could power generators — into Gaza, arguing that Hamas, which rules the territory, has ample reserves and would divert additional shipments for military purposes.
On Saturday, Palestinian health officials announced that one baby who had been born premature had died at the hospital. Unless power was restored to keep the incubators running, the others could face the same fate, Dr. Mai al-Kaila, the health minister for the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, said.
The fighting around Al-Shifa has intensified as Israeli troops advance to the hospital’s gates. Israeli and American officials say the hospital hosts an underground Hamas military command center, suggesting the Israeli military intends eventually to storm the site. Hamas and hospital officials have rejected the claims.
As Israel’s aerial bombardments intensified in October, more than 60,000 displaced people were sheltering inside Al-Shifa’s sprawling complex. Israeli authorities have been calling on Palestinian civilians to leave the north, and as the fighting drew nearer last week — including four strikes inside the complex — many holdouts, both patients and staff members, finally fled, according to the Gaza health ministry.
at main entrance
at main entrance
But the babies’ fragile health makes moving them difficult, complicating Israel’s stated goal of emptying Al-Shifa of civilians before its troops attempt to enter the compound.
The Israeli military said late Monday that it was working to deliver mobile incubators and respirators to Al-Shifa hospital in an attempt to help evacuate the babies. In a statement, the Israeli military said it was “willing to work with any reliable mediating party to ensure the transfer of the incubators.”
The New York Times was unable to reach the hospital director or the spokesman for the Gaza health ministry to ask about Israel’s offer, the details of which remained unclear.
In an attempt to show its offer is serious, and as international concern over the threat to Gaza’s hospitals mounts, the Israeli military late Monday released what it said was a recording of a phone call between an Israeli military official and the director-general of Al-Shifa. In the audio clip, the officer asks how many incubators the hospital needs, before agreeing to provide the 37 specified by the director.
According to the recording, the Israeli official asked what else was lacking, and the director requested an additional four respirators for pediatric patients. “They need oxygen,” the hospital official said. The authenticity of the audio recording could not be immediately independently verified.
The World Health Organization said on Sunday that Al-Shifa “is not functioning as a hospital anymore” and warned of a “dire and perilous” situation for patients and the thousands of people sheltering there. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Monday that the lack of electricity had led to at least 12 deaths at the hospital, and the top U.N. aid official for the Palestinian territories said three of Al-Shifa’s nurses were killed on Monday.
Israel’s public pledge to send incubators came after a weekend of conflicting statements by the Israeli military and officials at Al-Shifa.
On Saturday, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said at a televised news conference that the Israeli military would help transfer the babies from Al-Shifa to “a safer hospital.” Soon afterward, Al-Shifa’s director, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, denied the Israeli claim, saying: “These words are completely false.”
On Sunday, the Israeli military said that it had “delivered 300 liters of fuel to the Shifa Hospital’s doorstep, yet the fuel remains untouched after Hamas threatened hospital staff.” But Dr. Nasser Bolbol, the head of Al-Shifa’s neonatal unit, said that the fuel was “half a kilometer” away from the hospital in a combat zone, and the Israeli military had not guaranteed the safety of those who would be sent to retrieve it.
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.