31 premature babies are evacuated from Gaza's largest hospital, but scores of trauma patients remain
By NAJIB JOBAIN and SAMY MAGDY Associated Press
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — 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 the 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 following the militant group’s into southern Israel six weeks ago.
The army said it found a 55-meter (60-yard) tunnel about 10 meters (33 feet) under the hospital’s 20-acre complex, which includes several buildings, garages and a plaza. It said the tunnel included a staircase and a firing hole that could be used by snipers, and ended at a blast-proof door that troops have not yet opened.
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 kilometers of tunnels. However, he said, “the Israelis said there was a command and control center, 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, Israel has rescued one, and the bodies of two were found near Shifa.
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 a Israeli-linked cargo ship in the southern Red Sea and took its 25 crew members hostage Sunday, an action that raised fear that regional tensions heightened by the war were spilling onto the seas. The Iran-backed rebel group said it would continue to target ships connected to Israel.
No Israelis were aboard the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader, which was operated by a Japanese company with crewmembers from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico, officials said. Public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, a company founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, who is known as one of the richest people in Israel.
Ungar told The Associated Press he was aware of the incident but couldn’t comment as he awaited details. A ship linked to him experienced an explosion in 2021 in the Gulf of Oman. Israeli media blamed it on Iran at the time.
The Galaxy Leader was seized some 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the coast of Yemen, near the coast of Eritrea, and taken to the port city of Hodeida, according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, citing a security officer with the ship’s company.
Japanese officials were negotiating with Houthi rebels for the release of the ship and its crew, said Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.
HEAVY FIGHTING IN THE NORTH
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 U.N.-run hospital there, said by phone.
The commissioner-general of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, said 24 people were killed the day before in what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike on a U.N.-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,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on that strike and another on a U.N.-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.
Attacks by Israeli forces and settlers have killed 215 Palestinians in the West Bank since the war began, according to Palestinian health officials.
COLDER WEATHER ADDS TO MISERY
More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, is struggling to provide basic services to hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Seventeen of its facilities have been directly hit, the agency said.
Their misery has worsened in recent days because of cold winds and driving rain.
Over the weekend, Israel allowed UNRWA to import enough fuel to continue humanitarian operations for another couple of days, and to keep internet and telephone systems running. Israel cut off all fuel imports at the start of the war, causing Gaza’s sole power plant and most water treatment systems to shut down.
Israel has repeatedly struck what it says are militant targets across the south, often killing civilians.
The evacuation zone is already crowded with displaced civilians, and it was not clear where they would go if the offensive moved closer. Egypt has refused to accept any influx of Palestinian refugees, in part because of fears that Israel would not allow them to return.
But some patients and foreign nationals reportedly got through. Turkey’s Health Ministry said it evacuated 110 people — including patients and their relatives — from an unspecified part of Gaza to Egypt. Another 87 people who were from Turkey or breakaway northern Cyprus entered Egypt from Gaza late Sunday, Turkish officials said, with the groups to be flown Monday to Turkey.
Palestinian-Canadian Khalil Manaa, 71, left Gaza for Egypt on Sunday. After fleeing to southern Gaza, he said he and relatives shared a home crammed with 40 people. “And there, we also were subjected to intense strikes. … A rocket hit our house,” he said.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Julia Frankel in Jerusalem and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.