Middle East

Newborns taken out of incubators wrapped in foil to keep them alive at Gaza’s largest hospital, director says

By Hamdi Alkhshali, Jo Shelley and Helen Regan, CNN

CNN  — 

Premature babies at Gaza’s largest hospital are being wrapped in foil and placed next to hot water in a desperate bid to keep them alive, the hospital director warned, as Israeli firepower continues to pound surrounding streets and remaining fuel reserves dry up, leaving the facility unable to function.

Staff at the Al-Shifa hospital were fighting to keep the newborns alive after oxygen supplies ran out and they had to move the babies by hand from the neonatal unit’s incubators to a different part of the hospital.

“I was with them a while ago. They are now exposed, because we have taken them out of the incubators. We wrap them in foil and put hot water next to them so that we can warm them,” the medical center’s director Dr. Muhammad Abu Salmiya told Al-Araby TV on Sunday.

Images show several newborn babies who were taken off incubators at the hospital clustered helplessly together and placed in one bed.

The doctor said several children have died while in the intensive care unit and the nursery during the last day amid Israel’s continued bombardment and blockade of Gaza, an already impoverished and densely packed territory, following the October 7 attack on its territory by Hamas militants.

Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 11,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials, and a fuel blockade has resulted in a deepening humanitarian crisis as hospitals, water systems, bakeries and other services reliant on electricity shut down.

Conditions at Al-Shifa deteriorated into a “catastrophic” situation over the weekend, as staff, patients and thousands of sheltering residents were trapped inside due to heavy fighting, aid agencies and Hamas health officials said, though Israel insists people are safe to leave the hospital by following an evacuation corridor eastwards out of the complex.

Inside the hospital, none of the operating rooms are functioning due to a lack of electricity, Abu Salmiya said, adding that “whoever needs surgery dies, and we cannot do anything for him.”

Newborns are placed in bed after being taken off incubators in Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after power outage in Gaza City on November 12. Reuters

“The operating rooms are completely out of service, and now the wounded come to us and we cannot give them anything other than first aid,” he said.

Al-Shifa is far from alone. On Sunday the Palestine Red Crescent Society announced that Al-Quds Hospital, another major facility in Gaza City is now out of service.

The PRCS said the hospital – the second largest in Gaza – was “no longer operational. This cessation of services is due to the depletion of available fuel and power outage.”

Working by candlelight

A freelance journalist inside Al-Shifa described dozens of bodies yet to be buried, ambulances have been unable to collect the wounded, and life-support systems have no electricity to function. Medics are working by candlelight, food is being rationed and people inside are starting to drink pipe water, the journalist said.

An Israeli military spokesperson told CNN its forces were engaged in “ongoing intense fighting” against Hamas in the vicinity of the hospital complex, but denied firing at the northern Gaza medical center and has rejected suggestions the hospital is under siege.

The Israeli military has previously said Hamas is embedding itself in civilian infrastructure and that it will strike Hamas “wherever necessary.” It has also accused Hamas of using hospitals as cover — a charge doctors at Al- Shifa and the militant group deny.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians, injured or displaced by Israel’s escalating war against Hamas, have packed its wards, seeking shelter from the seemingly endless barrage of Israeli airstrikes.

Ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra said the Al Shifa complex was “out of service” after repeatedly being targeted by Israeli fire and that the “intensive care unit, pediatric department, and oxygen devices have stopped working.”

The World Health Organization says Al-Shifa has been without power for three days. “Regrettably, the hospital is not functioning as a hospital anymore,” it said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN Sunday there’s “no reason” patients can’t be evacuated from Al-Shifa. Netanyahu told CNN that Israel is helping patients by establishing safe corridors on the ground and said that “100 or so” have already been evacuated from the hospital.

CNN cannot independently verify whether any people have been able to evacuate and the hospital director said people are afraid to step outside.

International calls for a ceasefire continue to mount as global leaders pile pressure on Israel over the mounting civilian death toll and huge crowds gather in cities around the world for pro-Palestinian protests. But Netanyahu reiterated to CNN Sunday that the only halt in fighting he would accept is “one in which we have our hostages released.”

The Israeli military estimates 240 hostages are being held by Hamas in Gaza, including civilian men, women and children. The militant group has released just four hostages – two elderly Israeli women and an American mother and daughter – while the Israeli forces said they had rescued an Israeli soldier.

“If you’re talking about stopping the fighting, that’s exactly what Hamas wants,” Netanyahu said, arguing that Hamas would use those extended pauses to replenish its supplies. “Hamas wants an endless series of pauses that basically dissipate the battle against them,” he said.

It comes as Israeli troops on Sunday continued their ground operation in Gaza by going deeper into Gaza City, army spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a press briefing. Infantry and combat engineering forces reached the outskirts of al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza, Hagari said, which is near the Al-Shifa hospital. While army forces in coordination with the Navy raided the Gaza marina area and are currently in the areas to its east.

Dispute over fuel offer

The Israeli military said it put 300 liters of fuel at the entrance to the Al-Shifa Hospital complex on Sunday, but that Hamas had blocked the hospital from receiving it.

Abu Salmiya, the hospital director, told Al-Araby TV that Israeli officials had indeed called him to offer the fuel — which he said would provide power to run the generators for only thirty minutes — but that staff had been too scared to go get it.

The IDF released a video it said showed soldiers delivering the jerry cans to a curbside location near the hospital entrance. It also released an audio recording, purportedly of a hospital official accusing a Hamas leader at the health ministry of refusing to allow it to be collected.

Abu Salmiya said it was the presence of Israeli tanks that prevented collection.

“Of course, my paramedic team was completely afraid to go out,” he said, adding, “We want every drop of fuel, but I told (the IDF) that it should be sent through the International Red Cross or through any international institution.”

Hamas dismissed the allegations and said the Israeli fuel delivery was a propaganda stunt.

This story is being updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Abeer Salman, Kareem El Damanhoury, Kareem Khadder, Jonny Hallam, Jomana Karadsheh, Niamh Kennedy, Tamar Michaelis, Heather Chen and Manveena Suri contributed reporting.

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