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Palestinians look at destruction after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis. Alamy Stock Photo

Premature babies evacuated to Egypt as Gaza's health ministry says 12 killed in hospital strike

The 28 premature babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, had been taken to safety in Egypt through the Rafah crossing.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Nov 2023

TWENTY-EIGHT PREMATURE babies were evacuated from war-devastated Gaza to Egypt today, as the Hamas-run health ministry accused Israel of a deadly strike on the territory’s Indonesian Hospital.

While fighting raged, negotiators worked to seal a deal for the release of some of the roughly 240 hostages the Islamist militants took during their unprecedented 7 October attacks on Israel.

The Gaza health ministry charged that Israel’s army killed at least 12 people in the strike on the Indonesian Hospital in the Palestinian territory’s north, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble.

Those killed included patients, said Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for the ministry.

Hamas authorities have reported a total death toll of more than 13,300, mostly civilians, from the Israel-Hamas war now in its seventh week.

Late today, Qudra said about 100 patients had so far been evacuated from the Indonesian Hospital, in coordination with the Red Cross.

Hundreds remained inside but efforts continued to move them to hospitals in southern Gaza, Qudra added.

Israel did not immediately comment.

The military pushed on with its withering air and ground campaign aimed at destroying Hamas in response to the 7 October attacks that officials said killed around 1,200 people, when the militants broke through Gaza’s militarised border.

“We are witnessing a killing of civilians that is unparallelled and unprecedented in any conflict since I am Secretary-General,” said United Nations chief Antonio Guterres.

rafah Health workers take care of evacuated premature babies at a hospital in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Alamy Alamy

More than 2.4 million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza and only several hundred war-wounded, foreign nationals and dual passport holders have been allowed out.

The UN World Health Organization today said 28 premature babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, had been taken to safety in Egypt through the Rafah crossing, revising down by one a number given by Egyptian media.

“All babies are fighting serious infections and continue needing health care,” the WHO said, while the Israeli army said it had “helped facilitate” the transfer.

Child hostages

In Israel’s commercial centre, Tel Aviv, the families of Israeli children held hostage by Hamas were among hundreds of people who demonstrated outside the UN children’s fund, which they urged to speak out for their release.

Yoni Asher, whose daughters, four-year-old Raz and Aviv, 2, are among the captives, called on UNICEF to make a public stand about Israeli children “like you refer specifically to babies on the other side”.

Air raid sirens warning of incoming Hamas rockets suddenly interrupted the demonstration, sending some people running for shelter as others flung themselves onto the ground.

US President Joe Biden today said he believes a deal to free hostages in Gaza is close. “I believe so,” he said during a White House ceremony.

The Red Cross said its president had travelled to Qatar to meet with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, and separately with officials in the emirate which has helped broker talks on the hostages.

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war has seen Israeli troops raid, occupy and evacuate Al-Shifa hospital.

gaza Displaced people are seen at a temporary shelter in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis. Alamy Alamy

Israel, backed by the United States, argues that Hamas has used vast tunnel networks below Al-Shifa for military purposes. It has shown recovered weapons, and on Sunday said it had uncovered a 55-metre tunnel.

It also released CCTV footage it said showed two male hostages being brought into the facility.

The militants and medical staff have denied that a command centre is under the hospital, and Israel has yet to reveal evidence of a major military headquarters below ground.

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said today on X, formerly Twitter, that its Gaza City clinic had come under fire “as heavy fighting took place all around it. An Israeli tank was seen in the street.”

Twenty-one people inside are “in extreme danger”, MSF said.

‘Like the apocalypse’

Alarm has surged over the dire humanitarian situation across Gaza where cold autumn rain has deepened the misery by soaking families living in tents and turning dust to mud.

The WHO warned of spreading sickness with 44,000 cases of diarrhoea and 70,000 acute respiratory infections registered in shelters.

With a majority of Gaza’s hospitals no longer functioning, the territory today received from Jordan what Palestinian officials said is the first field hospital since the war began.

It has a 41-bed capacity, the Jordanian royal palace said.

Israel has told Palestinians to move from north Gaza for their safety, but deadly air strikes have continued to hit central and southern areas.

Families walked along cracked roads as gunshots and explosions rang out in the distance.

“It’s like the apocalypse,” said one tearful woman, Renad al-Helou.

“We are tired. There’s no water, no food… There’s nothing left in Gaza. There’s only destruction, suffering and torture.”

‘Humanitarian disaster’

A senior Israeli military official today told reporters that if the army wants to take out Hamas’s firepower, “we have to go to the south. We cannot do it without” going there.

The Gaza war has sparked fears of a wider conflagration in the Middle East where Israel has long faced arch-enemy Iran and its allies.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, allied with Hamas, said it today targeted troops in northern Israel with drones, artillery and missiles, claiming a string of new attacks.

In response to missile launches from “a terrorist cell”, Israel’s military said tanks, a fighter jet and a helicopter struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels on Sunday said they had seized in the Red Sea a cargo ship with links to an Israeli businessman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the vessel “was hijacked with Iran guidance by the Yemenite Huthi militia”, an allegation Iran rejected.

During a meeting today with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Jordan’s King Abdullah II called for a ceasefire in Gaza and an “end to the siege”.

He warned of the “catastrophic effects of the ongoing heinous war, which is killing innocent, defenceless civilians”, as well as rising settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has refused to heed calls for a ceasefire before Hamas releases all the hostages.

South Africa, long a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, will on Tuesday host a virtual summit of the BRICS group of nations to discuss the Israel-Hamas war.

On the eve of the event Israel’s foreign ministry said it had recalled for consultations its ambassador to Pretoria.

© AFP 2023