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Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel. Alamy Stock Photo

Gaza health ministry says premature babies at risk as main hospital under constant fire and running out of fuel

Twenty of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “no longer functioning”, the UN’s humanitarian agency said.

LAST UPDATE | 11 Nov 2023

GAZA HOSPITALS HAVE said they are under constant fire and running on nearly exhausted supplies today as Israel rejected key allies’ condemnation of a rising civilian death toll in the Hamas-controlled territory.

The director of the besieged Palestinian territory’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, said the compound was struck repeatedly overnight and lost power for hours after its generator was hit.

“We received calls about dozens of dead and hundreds wounded in air and artillery strikes, but our ambulances weren’t able to go out because of gunfire,” said hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya.

Israel has denied targeting hospitals and its army has accused Hamas of using the medical facilities as command centres and hideouts, a charge the Palestinian militant group denies.

The Gaza health ministry said dozens of premature babies at Al-Shifa compound were at risk of dying because the lack of generator fuel meant their incubators could be shut down today as fighting raged.

They added one of the babies had died, and one person was killed and several others wounded in a strike on Al-Shifa early today.

In a statement, aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it was “extremely concerned” about the safety of patients and medical staff at Al-Shifa hospital, adding that the situation in the hospital was “catastrophic”. 

“The hostilities around the hospital have not stopped. MSF teams and hundreds of patients are still inside Al-Shifa hospital,” the statement read, reiterating its call ”to stop the attacks against hospitals, for an immediate ceasefire and for the protection of medical facilities, medical staff and patients.”

“We are being killed here, please do something” texted one of MSF nurse from Al-Shifa hospital basement this morning, where he and his family were sheltering from the incessant bombing.

palestinians-wounded-in-the-israeli-bombardment-of-the-gaza-strip-are-brought-to-a-treatment-room-of-al-aqsa-hospital-on-deir-al-balah-gaza-strip-friday-nov-10-2023-ap-photoadel-hana Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to a treatment room of al Aqsa Hospital on Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In the Shifa hospital courtyard, the boom of explosions echoed around Mohammed Rihane as he walked on crutches for his injured leg.

“People are dying, torn to shreds in the streets and we can’t go and look for them,” he said. Moving around the city remains incredibly dangerous.

‘No justification for bombing civilians’

The suffering in Gaza has prompted growing calls for a halt in five weeks of fighting in order to protect civilian lives and allow humanitarian aid into the densely populated territory.

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Israel to stop bombing civilians in Gaza, saying there was “no justification” and the deaths were causing “resentment”.

In an interview with the BBC broadcast yesterday, Macron said Israel had the right to protect itself after the Hamas attacks, but he said that civilians were dying as a result of the country’s air and expanding ground campaign.

“These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed,” the French leader said. “So there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back, saying the responsibility for any harm to civilians lies with Hamas.

“Israel does everything in its power to avoid harming civilians and urges them to leave the battle areas,” he said.

Arab and Muslim leaders today said they rejected any proposal that would keep Gaza separate from the West Bank in a future Palestinian state.

The final statement from a summit in the Saudi capital stressed the importance of “the unity of Gaza and the West Bank as the territory of the Palestinian State”, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Saudi Arabia denounced what it described as “double standards” in the world’s response to the Israel-Hamas war, saying Israel was getting a pass on violations of international law.

“We are watching and observing the double standards and we are reassessing based on this the credibility of international systems. If there is no commitment binding everyone to these foundations, it is difficult to speak of these foundations as unifying foundations,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a press conference following a summit in the capital Riyadh.

Hamas fighters smashed through the militarised border on 7 October, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 people hostage, according to the most recent Israeli figures.

The Gaza health ministry says Israeli fighting has killed more than 11,000 people, also mostly civilians and thousands of them children.

Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian armed group present in Gaza, said today its “fighters are engaged in fierce clashes in the vicinity of Al-Shifa hospital complex” and other areas of Gaza City, claiming to have caused “casualties in the ranks of the (Israeli) enemy forces”.

palestinians-mourn-their-relatives-killed-in-the-israeli-bombardment-of-the-gaza-strip-in-the-hospital-in-khan-younis-saturday-nov-11-2023-ap-photofatima-shbair Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in the hospital in Khan Younis. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Many people have taken refuge in the hospital grounds. AFP journalists saw people in beds lined up along a corridor. Some cooked meals with gas cannister stoves and ate while sitting on the floor.

‘Far too many’ deaths

Concern over the civilian toll has also come from staunch Israel ally Washington, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Friday: “Far too many Palestinians have been killed.”

The conflict has stoked regional tensions, with deadly cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

Speaking at a summit of Arab and Muslim leaders in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called on Islamic governments to designate Israel’s military a “terrorist organisation”.

He also urged nations that have ties with Israel to sever them and called for greater support for Palestinians.

Iran backs Hamas as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels, placing it at the centre of concerns the war could expand.

In northern Gaza, the director of the Indonesian hospital said lack of fuel forced the facility to cut power to things like their desalination plant, scanners and lifts.

“The hospital is working with 30-40% of its capacity,” Atef Al-Kahlot said.

“We call on the honourable people of the world, if any of them are left, to put pressure on the occupation forces to supply the Indonesian hospital and the rest of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip.”

Hospitals have become key sites for Palestinians seeking refuge from the intense gun battles and bombardment.

A wounded boy at the Indonesian hospital, Youssef Al-Najjar, said he was waiting for surgery but the necessary machines were off due to lack of power.

“I’m very thirsty but I’m not allowed to drink or eat until the operation is done,” he added.

Twenty of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are “no longer functioning”, the UN’s humanitarian agency said.

Tens of thousands flee

Fighting has reduced some streets in Gaza to ruins, with the sounds of apparent explosions and gunfire caught today on AFPTV’s Gaza City camera.

The bodies of about 50 people killed in a strike on Gaza City’s Al-Buraq school were taken to the Al-Shifa hospital, its director said Friday.

Israel today said its forces launched a air strike on the school that killed a Hamas company commander saying the group uses civilians as “human shields” — a charge it denies.

november-10-2023-gaza-palestine-palestinian-families-fleeing-gaza-city-and-other-parts-of-northern-gaza-towards-the-southern-areas-walk-along-a-road-amid-ongoing-battles-between-israel-and-the-pa Palestinian families fleeing Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza towards the southern areas. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The exodus toward Gaza’s south, which has accelerated under intense fighting and through evacuation corridors, has seen tens of thousands of people flee in recent days.

An estimated 30,000 additional Palestinians went southwards through a corridor opened by the Israeli military on Friday, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office OCHA.

The Israeli military said that around 150,000 Palestinians have left in a “mass evacuation” south in recent days from the area of the northern Gaza Strip where combat is heavy.

However, strikes were hitting buildings at the southern end of Gaza in Rafah, the area of the densely-populated territory to which civilians have been urged to evacuate.

“They struck us with a missile, and they are innocent people,” said Harb Fojou, standing near the rubble of a destroyed building.

Almost 1.6 million people have been internally displaced since 7 October, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA – about two thirds of Gaza’s population.

© AFP 2023 with reporting from David Mac Redmond