Gazan doctors plead for help in saving premature babies at Al-Shifa Hospital


(LONDON, TEL AVIV, Israel and BELGRADE, Serbia) — Doctors are pleading for help after Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, collapsed and ceased functioning as a hospital over the weekend when its power failed and an explosion happened in its courtyard, where thousands of people had been sheltering amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Staff members inside described desperate scenes as they fight to keep their most vulnerable patients alive.

“We don’t have electricity. There’s no water in the hospital. There’s no food. People will die in a few hours without functioning ventilators,” a doctor with the international humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said in a statement published Monday.

“In front of the main gates, there are many bodies. There are also injured bodies, we can’t bring them inside,” the statement continued, adding that attempts to retrieve patients had ended in their being attacked.

Dr. Ahmed Mokhallalati, Al-Shifa’s head of plastic surgery, told ABC News in a phone interview Monday that the stench of the bodies outside was so bad that they had to keep the hospital’s windows closed.

But he, alongside the doctors who have remained at Shifa, are unwilling to leave their patients, he said.

“The medical team agreed to leave the hospital only if patients are evacuated first: We don’t want to leave our patients,” the MSF statement said.

Among the most vulnerable of those patients are newborn babies.

“The neonates … they are the ones we are afraid will be dying one by one as we were pushed to move them outside of the incubator area,” Mokhallalati told ABC News.

Three of the 39 babies that were being cared for in Al-Shifa’s neonatal unit have died since their incubators stopped working on Saturday, Mokhallalati said. The hospital staff has been trying their best to look after them, swaddling them and using what power is left to heat the room they are in.

“They are on usual beds with the heaters,” Mokhallalati explained, and he sent ABC News photographs of the babies all lined up together wrapped in sheets.

Dr. Shireen Noman Abed, a neonatologist and, until recently, the head of Al-Shifa’s neonatal unit, explained the life-threatening situation these babies are in, telling ABC News: “They don’t have electricity to provide them with warmth. They don’t have staff to care for them.”

“Most of them are pre-term babies who need incubators, who need electricity, who need special food, who need care,” she said.

A particular concern for Noman Abed is the lack of safe water to mix with the babies’ formula.

“We expect all to die because they don’t have water to prepare [formula] for them,” she told ABC News.

Al-Shifa Hospital had been struggling to run with limited fuel for days, with doctors warning of its imminent collapse. On Friday, the fighting around the hospital intensified and a strike hit the courtyard outside the hospital.

Humanitarian groups, as well as international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations, are calling for an immediate cease-fire to allow aid such as food, medicine and fuel supplies to enter Gaza. Humanitarian agencies have repeatedly warned of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza amid Israel’s total siege and the air and ground campaigns, and MSF has made repeated calls for the shelling of hospitals in Gaza to cease.

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant has said the Israeli military is doing everything possible to prevent civilian loss of life.

While the White House is emphasizing the need to protect civilians in and around Gaza’s hospitals, two administration officials said the U.S. has intelligence supporting Israel’s assessment that Hamas is using Al-Shifa to shelter a command center under the medical complex — further complicating the situation on the ground.

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas launched its terrorist attack on Israel, more than 1,200 people have been killed, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office as of Monday. The death toll is reported to climb in Gaza, with 11,240 people killed as of Monday and over 29,000 injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

In recent days, several hospitals in Gaza said they have been under attack as heavy fighting occurs between Israeli troops and Hamas terrorists.

“Effectively after the missile attacks on the outpatients, Shifa started to collapse. A lot of the staff, a lot of the internally displaced, a lot of the waking wounded have left,” Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a plastic surgeon who works at both the al-Ahli and Al-Shifa hospitals, told ABC News.

The Israel Defense Forces said the missile that hit the Al-Shifa compound was “a misfired projectile launched by terrorist organizations inside the Gaza Strip,” adding: “The misfired projectile was aimed at IDF troops operating in the vicinity.”

The Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health claimed the Israelis deliberately targeted the hospital, which the IDF denied.

Mokhallalati told ABC News the IDF troops are at the gates of the hospital, saying, “The tanks are in front of the hospital, effectively 100 meters from the hospital,” and that there was constant bombardment last night.

The Israeli military has said it will help transport the remaining infants to safety, but has not specified when or how.

Amid the growing concern for Al-Shifa’s youngest patients, Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said they were prepared to evacuate the babies but were blocked from doing so by Hamas.

“Hamas leadership, alongside the Hamas Ministry of Health, is preventing this and placing pressure on the Shifa hospital not to accept our help. If the hospital requests, we will assist them with fuel and with evacuating the premature babies,” Hagari told journalists on Sunday. “The fuel is for essential systems only and the evacuation of the babies will be to another hospital. Our communication with the Shifa Hospital will continue.”

The Israeli military also said it had opened an evacuation route out of the eastern side of the hospital.

“There is no siege, I repeat, no siege, on Shifa hospital,” Hagari said. “The east side of the hospital is open for the safe passage of Gazans who wish to leave the hospital.”

But hospital staff say many felt it unsafe to take that passage after doctors reported on Saturday that some who had tried to flee the hospital had come under fire.

“We saw some people trying to leave Al-Shifa, they killed them, they bombed them, the sniper killed them,” an MSF doctor inside the hospital said in a statement.

“We’re speaking directly and regularly with the hospital staff. The staff of Shifa Hospital has requested that tomorrow [Monday], we will help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital. We will provide the assistance needed,” Hagari continued.

But Mokhallalati told ABC News on Monday that they had not received a serious offer from the Israelis, saying: “We were not offered proper evacuation for the kids and no proper petrol.”

By evening time in Gaza, there had still been no evacuation.

The IDF said over the weekend it had provided 300 liters of fuel for Al-Shifa Hospital but, according to Mokhallalati, the staff calculated it was not worth the risk of retrieving this fuel, which he said the Israelis had left 1 kilometer away from the gates. The Israelis said the fuel was 300 meters from the hospital and available for collection.

“We feel it would be unsafe to get these 300 liters,” Mokhallalati said, adding: “They are nothing, because Shifa consumes 10,000 liters of fuel a day, so this is a stupid number … it won’t be enough for more than an hour.”

The Israelis blame Hamas, saying pressure from the terrorist group is stopping staff from collecting the fuel. Hamas has denied this and, alongside Dr. Nidal Abuhadrous, the director of Al-Shifa’s surgical hospital, is calling for the International Committee of the Red Cross to give hospital staff and patients safe passage out of the Al-Shifa complex.

“We want the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to be responsible for and to be present physically at the hospital, for the evacuation and the help coming to Al-Shifa, if it was fuel or food,” a Hamas spokesman told ABC News.

In a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, Sunday night, the ICRC said, “We stand ready to fulfill our role as a neutral intermediary and support evacuations of medical facilities in Gaza, but this requires an agreement by the parties.”

“Gaza today is the scene of intense fighting and evacuating a hospital there (moving hospital beds, patients, medicine, and critical life-support systems) is extremely complex and laden with risks,” it added.

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