Evacuation of Premature Babies from Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Amid Conflict


In a critical humanitarian operation, 31 premature babies were evacuated from Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility, to a hospital in the southern city of Rafah. The World Health Organization (WHO) played a significant role in coordinating this urgent evacuation amidst ongoing conflict in the region.

Dire Conditions Prompt Emergency Response

The situation at Al-Shifa Hospital reached a critical point after a power blackout led to the shutdown of incubators and essential medical equipment. Food, water, and medical supplies dwindled as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants clashed nearby. Images of doctors struggling to keep the newborns warm had garnered global attention.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed the evacuation on social media, stating that the “very sick” babies, along with six health workers and some family members, were transferred under challenging conditions. He emphasized the urgency of their condition, noting that they are now receiving necessary care.

A humanitarian assessment team led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) visits Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, in this handout image released November 18, 2023. WHO/Handout via REUTERS 

Health System Under Strain

Mohammed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals, highlighted the severity of the situation, noting that the babies suffered from dehydration, vomiting, hypothermia, and sepsis due to the lack of medication. “They had not been in suitable conditions for them to stay alive,” Zaqout said, adding that the infants are slated to receive specialized care in Egypt.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) and United Nations agencies collaborated in the evacuation effort. However, the crisis extends beyond the newborns. WHO reported that 291 patients, including trauma patients with severe wounds and spinal injuries, remain in Al-Shifa, a facility now described as a “death zone.”

Allegations and Hospital Raids

Israel has long accused Hamas of using Al-Shifa Hospital as a command post, an allegation both Hamas and hospital staff deny. Israeli troops, stationed at the hospital for days, claim to have found weapons and a tunnel entrance, though these findings have not been independently verified.

Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, head of plastic surgery at Al-Shifa, reported that Israeli troops raided the surgical department and arrested a patient, adding to the tension and fear among the remaining medical staff and patients.

Palestinians rescue survivors after an Israeli strike on Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. While Israeli soldiers can be evacuated from the fighting, many Palestinians have nowhere to go. (Hatem Ali/The Associated Press)

Ongoing Conflict and Humanitarian Crisis

The evacuation of the premature babies is a stark reminder of the broader humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel’s military campaign, aimed at dismantling Hamas following their October 7 attack on southern Israel, has resulted in significant civilian casualties and widespread destruction. Palestinian health authorities report over 12,300 deaths, including a staggering 5,000 children, in Gaza.

As the conflict enters its seventh week, the toll on civilians continues to rise. The Israeli side has seen around 1,200 fatalities, mostly civilians. Hostage negotiations between Israel, the United States, and Qatar offer a glimmer of hope for a temporary pause in fighting and the release of hostages.

International Response and Future Uncertainties

As winter sets in, the humanitarian situation in Gaza worsens. International agencies are scrambling to provide basic services to the displaced population, but resources are limited. The Rafah crossing into Egypt remains a critical exit point for those fleeing the violence.

The international community, including the UN and WHO, continues to monitor the situation closely, advocating for an immediate ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid. The fate of those remaining in Gaza, particularly in hospitals like Al-Shifa, hangs in the balance as the conflict shows no signs of abating.