Ambulances carrying premature, sick babies crossed the Rafah border crossing into Egypt for life-saving treatment on Monday, according to live video broadcast on Egyptian state TV, after the infants were evacuated from Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza.
Earlier, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said 28 babies were due to cross the border, but it’s unclear how many were in the ambulances. The babies were greeted by hordes of medical professionals waiting with incubators to take them into care.
The infants were earlier sent to the Emirati Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday, in an operation marshaled by the PRCS and several other organizations. Citing doctors at the Rafah hospital, the World Health Organization said earlier the babies were fighting serious infections and 11 were in “critical condition,” due to a lack of medical supplies at Al-Shifa.
UNICEF, which worked with UN agencies and PCRS to carry out the evacuation, warned Sunday that the babies’ condition was “rapidly deteriorating.” It said the evacuation took place in “extremely dangerous conditions” and followed the “tragic death of several other babies, and total collapse of all medical services at Al-Shifa.”
Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza, has become a flashpoint in Israel’s war in the besieged enclave. The Israeli military alleges the facility is being used by Hamas as a shield for its operations and raided the hospital last Wednesday. Hamas and hospital officials have denied Israel’s claims.
For days, relentless bombardment near the hospital trapped thousands of staff, patients and civilians sheltering inside, prompting public outcry, fueled by the details of the plight of newborn babies fighting for their lives.
The WHO described Al-Shifa as a “death zone” with corridors “filled with medical and solid waste,” after a United Nations team visited the hospital for an hour on Saturday to assess the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Palestinian authorities said several newborns have died due to power outages and a shortage of medical supplies; hospital staff described having to move babies by hand from incubators after running out of fuel and wrapping them in foil to keep them warm.
Under growing pressure to provide evidence for its claim that Hamas is using Al-Shifa for military purposes, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday released CCTV videos and still images it says show Hamas fighters bringing hostages into Al-Shifa on October 7, when Hamas launched its attack on southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking some 240 people into Gaza as hostages.
Dr. Ahmed Mokhallalati, the head of the hospital’s burns unit, accused Israeli forces of pushing around staff, questioning them about Hamas and restricting staff movements after the raid last week.
“The common question (staff keep being asked): Do you know anything about the Hamas groups? Do you know anything about the tunnels within the hospital?” the doctor said.
Egyptian health workers were photographed on Monday standing beside ambulances and incubators, waiting for the babies to arrive at the Rafah border, which has been used to bring in limited aid and evacuate foreign nationals.
It was hoped that the parents of the newborns would be able to travel to safety with their children, but the WHO said very few of the infants were accompanied by family members.
Gazan officials had “limited information” and were not able to find close family members, the WHO said.
One father, Ali Sbeiti, was reunited with his young son Anas, who was born three days before the war began.
The intense fighting between Israel and Hamas, and a communications blackout across the enclave due to a lack of fuel, has complicated aid delivery efforts and made it more difficult for Palestinians to reach relief services.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday further missions were being planned to evacuate the remaining patients and staff from Al-Shifa, “pending guarantees of safe passage by parties to the conflict.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.