Medics at Gaza’s largest hospital make ‘last desperate call’ for help as premature babies at risk of death

Medics in Gaza’s largest hospital have issued a “last desperate call“ for help as dozens of premature babies are fighting for their lives, while ferocious battles raged between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

Mohamed Abu Selima, the director of al-Shifa hospital, said the sprawling medical complex – believed to be sheltering tens of thousands of wounded and displaced people – was now “completely isolated from the world” as wards were plunged into darkness and medical devices were stopped when generators ran out of fuel on Friday.

At least one of the 37 premature babies in the special care baby unit died due to the outages. The rest were being kept alive by medical staff who have been performing manual artificial respiration on some of them for three consecutive hours.

The Israeli military, which accuses Hamas militants of using hospitals as bases and human shields, has denied targeting al-Shifa and says it is not under siege.

“Due to power outage, four patients in the intensive care unit have also died,” Dr Abu Selima said in statement. “[Drones] target anybody trying to move within the premises of Shifa hospital. We have no water, no food, no electricity, no internet, and we have become completely isolated from the world.”

International medical charity Doctors Without borders said their staffers at al-Shifa had witnessed people being shot as they attempted to flee, meaning no one could safely evacuate. They said one of their nurses texted them on Saturday morning from the basement begging for help, saying: “We are being killed here.”

Inside Al-Shifa hospital as Israel continues to strike Gaza (WHO)
Inside Al-Shifa hospital as Israel continues to strike Gaza (WHO)

Dr Ashraf Al Qadra, a spokesperson for the ministry of health in Hamas-run Gaza, said the Israeli military “target anyone moving between buildings inside the hospital”. In a message shared with The Independent, he said there were 70 dead within the building but they couldn’t bury them in the gardens as “snipers target us when we do”.

“The artificial kidney unit is burning now and we tried to put out the flames with some sand as we have no water,” he continued. “This could be the last appeal to save our hospitals as all of us are under fire.”

Robert Mardini, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the “unbearably desperate situation” at al-Shifa must stop now.

Israel denied it is targeting al-Shifa but confirmed there were heavy clashes around the complex. Israel has accused Hamas of building a network of tunnels under Shifa.

“There is no shooting at the hospital and there is no siege. The east side of the hospital remains open,” said Israeli officer Colonel Moshe Tetro. “Additionally we can coordinate with anyone who wants to leave the hospital safely.”

Peter Lerner, a spokesperson for the Israeli military who confirmed there were still several thousand people inside the courtyard of al-Shifa, said Israeli forces “are operating in the vicinity of all the hospitals in north Gaza”.

Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at al-Shifa hospital (Reuters)
Smoke rises as displaced Palestinians take shelter at al-Shifa hospital (Reuters)

“We have been asking the hospitals to evacuate for four weeks… because we know where Hamas is operating from,” he added.

Elsewhere the Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli tanks were 20 metres from al-Quds hospital in Gaza City’s Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood, causing “a state of extreme panic and fear” among the 14,000 displaced people sheltering there.

British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, who is at Al-Ahli hospital, also in Gaza City told The Independent it is now the only functioning medical centre in the city and they have turned an outside courtyard – which was bombed earlier in the war – into a field hospital.

“We have been getting wounded all through the night and into this morning,” he said via a voice message. “The problem is we only have an orthopaedic surgeon, a plastic surgeon and one general surgeon.

“We don’t have a CT scan, our X-ray technician is gone and we are barely managing to keep people alive.”

Israel has pushed ahead with a ferocious bombardment of Gaza and imposed a full siege in retaliation for the bloody attack of 7 October by Hamas militants who killed hundreds of people in southern Israel and took dozens hostage.

So far Israel’s unprecedented offensive into Gaza has killed more than 11,000 people, including 4,506 children, according to the Palestinian ministry of health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the fighting has displaced 1.5 million people and that half of the hospitals are not functioning

As the death toll has soared and bombing reached apocalyptic levels, the United Nations and human rights groups have repeated desperate pleas for an immediate ceasefire to stop the “relentless bombardment” of hospitals and neighbourhoods where tens of thousands of people are still sheltering.

Videos shared with The Independent – reportedly taken outside al-Shifa hospitals and others – show the sky ablaze with strikes and terrified medics and patients trying to hide.

People gather around an ambulance damaged in a reported Israeli strike in front of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza (AFP via Getty Images)
People gather around an ambulance damaged in a reported Israeli strike in front of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza (AFP via Getty Images)

Another video reportedly taken within al-Shifa before it lost power showed severely injured patients on stretchers scattered across blood-spattered floors and corridors with no medics to attend to them.

The US, which initially shied away from calling for cessation of hostilities, has tried successfully to lobby Israel for temporary pauses that would allow for wider distribution of badly needed aid to civilians in the besieged territory.

However, Israel has only agreed to brief daily periods during which civilians can flee the area of ground combat in northern Gaza and head south on foot along the territory’s main north-south artery.

On Saturday the Israeli military said they had recorded the mass evacuation of at least 150,000 via these roads over the past few days, adding that more were on the move on Saturday as a humanitarian pause in Jabalia.

That would leave – according to Israel’s count – a further 150,000 in the north. Videos shared online showed families starting the gruelling march south. In one video a woman drags her two small children in car seats tied with string.

Reporters on the ground said some were on donkey-drawn carts or pushing children in wheelbarrows. “I am diabetic, and I have blood pressure issues. Where to go, and what do they want from us?” said Yehia al-Kafarnah, a resident fleeing south.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the responsibility for any harm to civilians lay with Hamas, repeating long-standing allegations that the militant group uses civilians in Gaza as human shields. He said that while Israel has urged civilians to leave combat zones, “Hamas is doing everything it can to prevent them from leaving”.

His statement came after French president Emmanuel Macron pushed for a ceasefire and urged other leaders to join his call, telling the BBC there was “no justification” for Israel’s ongoing bombing.