Twenty-eight premature babies arrived in Egypt in a convoy of ambulances from Gaza on Monday, according to an Egyptian official, after the infants were evacuated from Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza.
Four mothers and six nurses accompanied the babies, who will be sent to two separate hospitals in Egypt for treatment, the government source said.
On Sunday, 31 babies were transferred from Al-Shifa to the Emirati hospital in the southern city of Rafah in an operation launched by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) and several other organizations. A CNN journalist at the Rafah crossing reported that the babies were met by hordes of doctors waiting with incubators to attend to them.
Two of the babies stayed in the Emirati’s intensive care unit – with one infant said to be in good health – and a third baby did not move to Egypt as his parents are currently in northern Gaza. The other 28 will be treated at Al-Arish Hospital in Sinai and New Capital Hospital in Cairo.
“We have been waiting for them for the past few days. We have made all the preparations to receive the newborn babies with all the medical equipment needed for that,” a doctor at Al-Arish, named Ahmad, told the Egyptian state -TV Al Qahera on Monday, adding that some of the babies need “more advanced medical measures.”
A mother of one of the premature babies transferred to a hospital in Egypt said it was the “best place on earth” for her daughter to be. She told the Egyptian state-run pool that after a “difficult birth” on September 28, her daughter had been placed in an incubator in Al-Shifa.
“On the seventh of October I was supposed to go and see my daughter. She was dependent on artificial respiration. Then they asked us to leave our house, then they bombed our house. So I went to Al Shifa Hospital. It never occurred to us that the hospital would be targeted and that those children would go through what they went through, Lubna El-Seik said Monday.
After Israel announced a “precise and targeted” operation in Al-Shifa and fighting began in the hospital compound, Al Seik said her daughter’s condition worsened. “She relied solely on artificial oxygen,” she said.
Citing doctors at the Rafah hospital, the World Health Organization said earlier that the babies were battling serious infections and that 11 were in “critical condition” due to a lack of medical supplies in Al-Shifa.
UNICEF, which worked with UN agencies and PCRS to carry out the evacuation, warned on Sunday that the condition of the babies was “rapidly deteriorating”. It said the evacuation took place in “extremely dangerous conditions” and followed “the tragic death of several other babies and the total collapse of all medical services in Al-Shifa.”
Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza, has become a flashpoint in Israel’s war in the besieged enclave. The Israeli military claims the facility is being used by Hamas as a shield for its operations and raided the hospital last Wednesday. Hamas and hospital officials have denied Israel’s claims.
Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa/AP
Premature newborns receive treatment at the Emirati Hospital in Rafah after being evacuated from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 19, 2023.
For days, relentless bombardment near the hospital trapped thousands of staff, patients and civilians sheltering inside, sparking public outcry, fueled by details of the plight of newborn babies fighting for their lives.
The WHO described Al-Shifa as a “death zone” with corridors “filled with medical and solid waste” after a UN team visited the hospital for an hour on Saturday to assess the worsening humanitarian situation.
Palestinian authorities said several newborns have died due to power outages and lack of medical supplies; Hospital staff described having to move babies by hand from the incubators after running out of fuel and wrapping them in foil to keep them warm.
Under growing pressure to provide evidence of its claim that Hamas is using Al-Shifa for military purposes, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday released CCTV videos and still images that it says show Hamas fighters bringing hostages into Al -Shifa on October 7th. when Hamas launched its attack on southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking about 240 people into Gaza hostage.
IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari presented two short videos along with several still images that he said showed Hamas fighters moving the hostages — one Nepali, one Thai — through the hospital. CNN cannot independently verify the content of the videos and still images.
Dr. Ahmed Mokhallalati, the head of the hospital’s burns unit, accused Israeli forces of pushing staff around, interrogating them about Hamas and restricting staff movement after the raid last week.
“The common question (employees keep getting asked): Do you know anything about the Hamas groups? Do you know anything about the tunnels in the hospital?” said the doctor.
Egyptian health workers were photographed on Monday standing next to ambulances and incubators waiting for the babies to arrive at the Rafah border, which has been used to bring in limited aid and evacuate foreign nationals.
It was hoped that the parents of the newborns would be able to travel safely with their children, but the WHO said very few of the infants were accompanied by family members.
Babies who had been evacuated from Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City are treated at a hospital in Rafah, Gaza, on November 19.
Gaza officials had “limited information” and were unable to locate close family members, the WHO said.
A father, Ali Sbeiti, was reunited with his young son Anas, who was born three days before the war began.
“Thank God. We now feel our son is safe after not seeing him for more than two weeks. We didn’t know if he was dead or alive, especially when communication with the doctors was cut off,” Sbeiti told CNN.
Intense fighting between Israel and Hamas and a breakdown in communications across the enclave due to fuel shortages have complicated efforts to deliver aid and made it harder for Palestinians to reach emergency services.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday that additional missions were being planned to evacuate the remaining patients and staff from Al-Shifa, “pending guarantees of safe passage by the parties to the conflict.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.