This photo released by Dr. Marawan Abu Saada shows prematurely born Palestinian babies in Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 12. Image Credit: AP

Gaza: Ambulance crews of the Palestinian Red Crescent evacuated 31 premature babies from Al Shifa Hospital on Sunday in coordination with the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the group said in a post on its Facebook page.

UAE aid convoy sets off towards Rafah Crossing, bound for Gaza Strip

The babies were transferred to the south of Gaza “in preparation for their transfer to the Emirates Hospital in Rafah” the group earlier said.

Medics care for premature babies evacuated from Al Shifa hospital are receiving care at the Emirates hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 19, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. Image Credit: AFP

The fate of the newborns at Al Shifa Hospital had captured global attention after the release of images showing doctors trying to keep them warm.

A power blackout had shut down incubators and other equipment, and food, water and medical supplies ran out as Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside the hospital.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 31 "very sick" babies were moved in a joint operation with staff from the UN and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS), which used six ambulances in the transfer.

The babies were taken to the Al Helal Emirati Maternity Hospital, he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "They are receiving urgent care in the neonatal intensive care unit," he added.

An AFP photographer saw the tiny infants at the hospital, some three or four to a cot, being bottle-fed by nurses and tended to by doctors in surgical scrubs.

"Further missions are being planned to urgently transport remaining patients and staff out of Al Shifa Hospital, pending guarantees of safe passage by parties to the conflict," said Tedros.

Alongside the babies, six health workers and 10 staff family members were also moved, he added.

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Mohammad Zaqut, director general of hospitals in Gaza, told AFP "all 31 premature babies in Al Shifa hospital... have been evacuated" along with three doctors and two nurses.

A WHO team that visited the hospital on Saturday said 291 patients were still there, including 32 babies in extremely critical condition, trauma patients with severely infected wounds, and others with spinal injuries who are unable to move.

Medics care for babies at the Emirates hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

Medhat Abbas, a spokesman for the health ministry, confirmed the evacuation of babies. The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said they were transferred to a hospital run by the United Arab Emirates in Rafah.

Perils of movement

Underscoring the perils of movement inside the coastal enclave, Doctors Without Borders said a convoy of clearly marked vehicles carrying staff and their families was fired upon in Gaza City on Saturday. A relative of a staff member was killed and another person was injured, the aid group said.

About 2,500 displaced people, mobile patients and medical staff left Al Shifa Hospital on Saturday morning, the WHO said. It said 25 medical staff remained, along with the patients.

“Patients and health staff with whom they spoke were terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation,” the agency said, describing Al Shifa as a death zone.

Israel has long alleged that Hamas maintains a sprawling command post inside and under Al Shifa, part of its wider accusation that the fighters use civilians as cover. It has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza following the militant group’s wide-ranging attack into southern Israel six weeks ago, which killed over 1,200 people and triggered the war.

Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations, and critics have held up the hospital as a symbol of what they say is Israel’s reckless endangerment of civilians. Thousands have been killed in Israeli strikes, and there are severe shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel in the besieged territory.

Israeli troops who have been based at the hospital and searching its grounds for days say they have found guns and other weapons, and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel shaft. The AP couldn’t independently verify Israel’s findings.