Thirty-one premature babies in extremely critical condition were evacuated from the embattled Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza on Sunday and taken to another hospital in the enclave’s south, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the World Health Organization said on social media.
Emergency medical workers from the Red Crescent and the W.H.O., a United Nations agency, took the infants by ambulance to Al-Helal Emirati Maternity Hospital in Rafah, where they were receiving urgent care.
The conditions of the babies had been “rapidly deteriorating,” according to UNICEF, which said it participated in the “extremely dangerous” evacuation effort. It said that the babies had been moved in temperature-controlled incubators to Al-Helal, where they were being stabilized and cared for in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
Officials in Gaza and Egypt have said the babies will be transported over the border to Egypt for treatment, though the timing was unclear. On Sunday, Gaza’s health ministry published a list of the 31 infant evacuees and issued a call for their families to go to the hospital to identify them, adding that the parents might be able to join the babies in Egypt. UNICEF said it was helping to identify and register the babies in order to assist with family reunifications.
The W.H.O.’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, posted a photo on X, formerly Twitter, of a staff member in a blue United Nations helmet and bulletproof vest scooping up a tiny infant. The babies, along with six health care workers and 10 family members of hospital employees, were evacuated “under extremely intense and high-risk security conditions,” he wrote.
As Israel’s push to seize Al-Shifa Hospital set off a struggle to survive there in recent days, doctors and health officials warned that nearly 40 premature babies in incubators in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit were at particular risk of dying. Some of them had been born to mothers who had been killed in airstrikes or who died shortly after giving birth, doctors at Al-Shifa have said. Some were the only survivors in their families.
Medical workers placed the babies together on beds and hoped for the best as fuel to power the incubators — as well as dialysis machines, ventilators and other lifesaving equipment — dwindled.
Since Nov. 11, at least 40 patients, including at least four premature babies, have died in Al-Shifa because of power outages, the United Nations said on Saturday, citing hospital officials.
Fighting has raged at and around Al-Shifa for more than a week. More than 2,500 civilians, patients and staff members left the facility on Saturday after receiving an evacuation order from the Israeli military, the W.H.O. said in a statement. The agency called the hospital a “death zone.”
But the W.H.O. and health officials in the south have warned that the hospitals there are already stretched far too thin to accommodate new patients evacuating from Al-Shifa and other hospitals in the north.
Al-Helal, the maternity hospital where the premature babies were taken on Sunday, posted a video of its neonatal intensive care unit a day earlier in which an unnamed doctor says that Al-Helal, too, would run out of fuel by Monday.
For premature babies, “this is a death sentence carried out the moment the electricity is cut off,” the doctor says.
Israel has been reluctant to supply fuel to Gaza for fear that it would be used by Hamas, the Palestinian group that runs Gaza, in its war with Israel. Israel recently began allowing small amounts of fuel into the strip, but the U.N. and aid groups say it is far too little to address the growing humanitarian crisis there.
Iyad Abuheweila and Abu Bakr Bashir contributed reporting.