Thirty-one premature babies were evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital Sunday, the World Health Organization said, seeking to get the last patients and staff out of what it has dubbed a “death zone”.
The evacuation came as Israel, which said it was stepping up military operations against Hamas militants, announced it had found a 55-metre tunnel under the Al-Shifa hospital and released footage it said showed “hostages” inside the facility.
The developments, as sirens blared across Jerusalem to warn of rocket fire while Israel intensified air strikes on Gaza City, came as Qatar said “minor” obstacles remained for a deal on the release of hostages.
Civilians scurried for cover in Jerusalem as loud blasts from intercepted missiles pierced the air and in the evening an AFP reporter in Gaza heard warplanes strike repeatedly the centre of Gaza City.
Al-Shifa hospital has become the focus of the war that began October 7 when Gaza-based Hamas militants stormed across the militarised border to kill, according to Israeli officials, around 1,200 people and take roughly 240 hostages.
The Hamas government says the death toll from Israel’s relentless aerial bombardment and ground operations in Gaza, has reached 13,000.
Most of the casualties on both sides are civilians, while the army has reported 64 troops deaths in Gaza so far.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 31 “very sick” babies were moved in a joint operation with the UN and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
“They are receiving urgent care in the neonatal intensive care unit” of the Al-Helal Emirati field hospital in Rafah, across the border from Egypt, he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
An AFP photographer saw the tiny infants at the hospital, some three or four to a cot, being bottle-fed by nurses and tended to by doctors.
– Hospitals stretched –
Israel has said its military was “expanding its operational activities in additional neighborhoods… of the Gaza Strip” where the United Nations says about 1.6 million people have been internally displaced by weeks of fighting.
The coastal territory, under a crippling blockade since Hamas took power in 2007, has been besieged by Israel since the war erupted, leaving food, water, medicine and fuel in short supply.
And more than half of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are non-functioning by shortages, combat or damage, the UN says.
On Saturday, hundreds fled Al-Shifa hospital on foot as loud explosions were heard around the complex. Columns of sick and injured were seen leaving with displaced people, doctors and nurses.
At least 15 bodies, some in advanced stages of decomposition, were strewn along the route, an AFP journalist said.
The WHO said 29 patients at the hospital with serious spinal injuries cannot move without medical assistance.
Israel has told Palestinians to move south for their safety, but deadly strikes continued there too.
On Sunday 41 members of one family were killed in an Israeli bombardment of their home in Gaza’s Zeytoun district, the Hamas-run health ministry said.