Gaza Strip — As the war between Israel and Hamas rages on, 31 premature babies in critical condition were safely evacuated from Gaza’s main hospital on Sunday and taken to Egypt, while more than 250 patients with severe infections and other emergencies remained trapped in the hospital compound, which was raided by Israeli forces searching for Hamas operatives.
The babies’ ordeal, along with the Israeli accusations against Shifa Hospital, have become emblematic of the humanitarian crisis caused by the Israeli offensive, which has inflicted heavy casualties on Palestinian civilians, while Israel has alleged that Hamas has used Shifa and other hospitals as bases for military activities.
The infants, who suffered from dehydration, hypothermia and sepsis in some cases, according to Mohamed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals, were taken to the southern Gaza city of Rafah for urgent treatment. They had been in the hospital, where electricity and supplies were scarce, while Israeli forces fought Palestinian militants outside. Four other babies died before the evacuation, Zaqout said.
A World Health Organization team that visited Shifa said that most of the remaining patients had amputations, burns or other injuries. They were planning to evacuate them in the next few days.
On Sunday, the Israeli army said it had solid proof to back up its claims that Hamas had a large command center inside and under Shifa. Israel has identified the hospital as a main target in its campaign to end Hamas’ control of Gaza, which began after the militant group launched rockets into southern Israel six weeks ago.
The army said it discovered a 55-meter (60-yard) tunnel about 10 meters (33 feet) below the hospital’s 20-acre complex, which consists of several buildings, garages and a plaza. It said the tunnel had a staircase and a shooting hole for snipers, and led to a blast-proof door that soldiers have not yet opened.
The Associated Press was unable to independently verify Israel’s findings, which included security camera footage showing what the army said were two foreign hostages, one Thai and one Nepalese, brought to the hospital after the Oct. 7 attack.
The army also said that an independent medical report had concluded that Israeli army Cpl. Noa Marciano, whose body was found in Gaza, had been murdered by Hamas in the hospital. Marciano had been wounded in an Israeli strike on Nov. 9 that killed her kidnapper, according to Israel’s intelligence assessment. The wounds were not fatal but she was then slain by a Hamas militant in Shifa, the army said.
Hamas and hospital staff have refuted the allegations of a command center under Shifa. Critics have portrayed the hospital as a symbol of what they call Israel’s reckless disregard for civilian lives. Thousands have died in Israeli attacks in Gaza, which is facing a severe shortage of food, water, medicine and fuel.
Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, rejected the Israeli army’s announcement and did not 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 issue is bigger than just a tunnel.