Thousands Flee Gaza Hospital Amidst Conflict, Many Including Babies Remain Trapped

This image provided by Maxar Technologies shows al-Shifa hospital and surroundings in Gaza City, Saturday Nov. 11, 2023. (Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies via AP)

In a dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, thousands have fled the largest hospital, Shifa, as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants engage in intense conflict outside its gates. Despite this mass exodus, hundreds of patients, including dozens of vulnerable babies, are still trapped inside due to a crippling power blackout, health officials reported on Monday.

The situation in Shifa Hospital, a symbol of the six-week war’s brutal impact, is becoming increasingly desperate. With only intermittent communications, reconciling the conflicting accounts from the Israeli military and Palestinian health officials is challenging. The Israeli military claims to provide safe corridors for civilians to flee the intense fighting in the north, moving southwards. However, officials inside Shifa Hospital describe a scene of constant heavy gunfire, effectively besieging the compound.

Palestinian and UN officials say Gaza’s largest hospital is no longer in operation. The director of Al-Shifa Hospital says the facility is out of fuel, leading to the deaths of patients including babies, as Israel and Hamas blame each other for the situation.

Adding to the crisis, the military disclosed that it had placed 300 liters (79 gallons) of fuel near the hospital to power its generators. In contrast, Hamas militants reportedly prevented staff from accessing it. The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza contested this claim, arguing that the fuel would have provided less than an hour of electricity.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, stated on social media that Shifa “is not functioning as a hospital anymore,” having been without water for three days.

People show their documents on the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza strip on Monday. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Another hospital in Gaza City, Al-Quds, faced a shutdown on Sunday due to a fuel shortage. The Palestinian Red Crescent, operating the facility, reported that Israeli forces are stationed nearby and preparations are underway to evacuate about 6,000 patients, medics, and displaced individuals.

The conflict, triggered by Hamas’ surprise attack into Israel on October 7, has led to unprecedented destruction in Gaza, displacing nearly two-thirds of its 2.3 million residents. Shifa Hospital, now darkened and low on supplies, has become a refuge for thousands displaced by airstrikes. Medical professionals there are forced to perform surgeries, including on children, without anesthesia due to supply shortages.

Israel maintains that Hamas uses human shields, pointing to alleged military infrastructure within and beneath the medical compound of Shifa Hospital, a claim both Hamas and hospital staff deny. Mohammed Zaqout, director of hospitals in Gaza, reports approximately 650 patients and critically wounded individuals at Shifa, being cared for by around 500 medical staff.

A U.N. health official, who remained anonymous, indicated that many displaced families and patients with moderate injuries had fled Shifa as Israeli forces surrounded the hospital over the weekend. Yet, the relocation of remaining patients, many in critical condition, poses a significant challenge, requiring ambulances and special procedures.

Babies that were previously in incubators have been moved to beds in a surgical ward, after a lack of electricity forced the neonatal unit to shut down. Reuters

The Health Ministry highlighted the urgency of the situation, noting that 20 patients, including three babies, have died since the hospital’s emergency generator ran out of fuel on Saturday. Another 36 babies and patients are at risk of dying due to the inability to power life-saving medical equipment.

Melanie Ward, CEO of Medical Aid for Palestinians, emphasized the complexity of transferring critically ill infants, noting the lack of ambulances and receiving hospitals. She advocated for a pause in fighting to allow fuel access.

Christos Christou, President of Doctors Without Borders, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that evacuating patients from Shifa could take weeks.

Palestinians enter a hospital on Monday in Khan Younis in southern Gaza following an Israeli strike. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

The U.S. has pushed for temporary ceasefires to facilitate the distribution of essential aid, but Israel has only agreed to brief daily periods for civilians to escape ground combat. Meanwhile, Israel continues its offensive across southern Gaza, often resulting in civilian casualties, including women and children.

As the conflict rages on, the toll on human life continues to rise. More than 11,000 Palestinians, mainly women and minors, have been killed, and about 2,700 are reported missing. On the Israeli side, at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, have died, and nearly 240 hostages, including families, are held by Palestinian militants. The Israeli military reports 44 soldier casualties in ground operations in Gaza.

Approximately 250,000 Israelis have evacuated from areas near Gaza, under constant threat from rocket barrages by Palestinian militants, and along the northern border with Lebanon, where exchanges with the Hezbollah militant group have occurred, including on Monday.