Gaza: 31 babies evacuated from 'death zone' hospital as 'progress' made on hostage deal

Premature babies have been evacuated from Gaza's largest hospital, meanwhile, a deal for a ceasefire in exchange for hostages is inching closer, as Ellie Pitt reports.

  • At least 30 babies have been saved and relocated after 291 patients were left stranded in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, where The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is continuing its search for Hamas' command centre.

  • The Israeli military has published a video of what it describes as a 'tunnel' network, dug by Hamas militants under the al-Shifa hospital. Something Hamas and hospital staff deny.

  • There are multiple reports suggesting that a temporary pause in hostilities and release of some hostages could be near.

  • US President Joe Biden says he has revived talks with US officials with the aim of working towards a two-state solution, adding that a ceasefire is "not peace".

  • More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war between Israel and proscribed terror group Hamas.

  • At least 1,200 people were killed in Israel, following Hamas' October 7 attack in the south of the country

Thirty one premature babies have been evacuated from Gaza's heavily damaged main hospital and safely transported to another in the south.

The babies have been taken to an Emirati hospital in the southern city of Rafah, close to the Egyptian border.

The newborns from al-Shifa 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 were among 291 trauma patients, with severely infected wounds, and others unable to move with spinal injuries, left in al-Shifa after a mass evacuation on Saturday.

The babies suffered from dehydration, vomiting, hypothermia and some had sepsis because they hadn't received medication, and they had not been in “suitable conditions for them to stay alive,” said Mohamed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals.

"They’ll go to Egypt on Monday for more specialised care, he added.

A World Health Organisation team that visited the hospital on Saturday said 291 patients were still there, including the babies.

Others were trauma patients with severely infected wounds and those with spinal injuries who are unable to move.

Four babies died in the two days before their visit, Zaqout said.

The WHO said 25 medical staff remained, along with the patients who it said were “terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation.”

The agency described Shifa as a "death zone".

The Israeli military has published a video of what it describes as a 'tunnel' network, dug by Hamas militants under the al-Shifa hospital.

Hamas and medical staff have repeatedly denied building a tunnel under Gaza's main hospital.

It comes as Qatar’s prime minister, who is part of the team negotiating the release of hostages taken by Hamas during the initial October 7 attack, said he was “confident” a deal would be reached soon.

The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said it evacuated 31 babies in coordination with UN bodies. It said they would be transferred to a hospital run by the United Arab Emirates in the Egyptian border city of Rafah.

There was no immediate comment from the WHO, and it was not clear if all the babies had been evacuated as the organisation earlier said there were 32 babies remaining at Al-Shifa.

The facility was described as a "death zone" by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and a group of health inspectors, who say they found a mass grave reportedly containing more than 80 bodies while making an assessment.

WHO led a mission to assess Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. Credit: WHO

WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "The team saw a hospital no longer able to function: no water, no food, no electricity, no fuel, medical supplies depleted.

"Given this deplorable situation and the condition of many patients, including babies, health workers requested support to evacuate patients who cannot receive lifesaving care there anymore.

"We are working with partners to develop an urgent evacuation plan and ask for full facilitation of this plan."We continue to call for protection of health and of civilians. The current situation is unbearable and unjustifiable."

Israel, which took control of the hospital earlier this week, says it was being used as a command centre by Hamas militants, something staff and the proscribed terror group deny.

Saturday's mass departure was portrayed by Israel as voluntary, but the WHO said the military had issued evacuation orders, and some of those who left described it as forced.

“We left at gunpoint,” Mahmoud Abu Auf told The Associated Press by phone after he and his family left the crowded hospital. “Tanks and snipers were everywhere inside and outside.” He said he saw Israeli troops detain three men.

Israeli troops have continued their occupation of Al-Shifa and say they found guns, weapons, and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel shaft, which they claim Hamas is using.

People wave white flags amid gun fire as al-Shifa Hospital is evacuated, as Sejal Karia reports

Around 2,500 displaced people, mobile patients and medical staff left the hospital yesterday, but the nature of the evacuation is being contested by Israel and Gaza.

The Israel Defence Force also found the bodies of two hostages in the area, who had been taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack on the country.

So far, Hamas has let four hostages go and Israel has rescued one as negotiations have been taking place for weeks to secure the release of the 237 believed to still be in captivity.

Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said on Sunday he was “confident” a deal would soon be reached, telling reporters the “the sticking points are more practical, logistical.”

Israel's President Benjamin Netanyahu denied what he called false reports that Israel was considering a proposal for the release of at least 50 abductees. 

Around 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during the original incursion.

In Gaza more than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble following the constant bombardment of airstrike from Israeli missiles.

Palestinian rescuers evacuate an injured woman found under a destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp,. Credit: AP

Dozens of people were killed in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp, following an Israeli airstrike hitting a crowded UN shelter on Saturday, witnesses say.

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.”

The strike caused massive destruction in the camp’s Fakhoura school, said wounded survivors Ahmed Radwan and Yassin Sharif.

“The scenes were horrifying. Corpses of women and children were on the ground. Others were screaming for help,” Radwan said by phone.

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