TEL AVIV — Newborns and other patients receiving care at Gaza’s largest hospital are dying as power fails and resources run out, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, which said at least 35 babies born premature face possible “death at any moment.”
The Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City has been “out of service” since Saturday morning, according to the ministry, as heavy bombardment and intense fighting outside the complex causes power outages amid a fuel shortage.
The health ministry said in a statement that three babies have died over the weekend, as well as more than 10 other patients. Muneer Al-Boursh, general director of the health ministry, told NBC News about the deaths in a phone interview and confirmed that hundreds of patients were still inside the hospital.
Dr. Marwan Abusada, a surgeon at the hospital who is also head of international cooperation at the Ministry of Health, said on Saturday that one infant died “because we did not have electricity.” He confirmed the deaths of two more babies on Sunday in a phone call with NBC News.
He said 36 others were at risk: “If they stay in this condition, they are going to all die.”
The challenges for Gaza’s hospitals continue to mount: As fighting has intensified, ambulances have come under fire, power is going out, and dead bodies have piled up amid an overwhelming surge of patients.
The majority of the enclave’s hospitals are out of service, according to the Palestinian minister of health. The Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City joined that list on Sunday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said, and is no longer operational.
The Israel Defense Forces announced Sunday that they would open evacuation routes from Al-Shifa and two other hospitals in Gaza City: Al-Rantisi and Al-Nasr. In a statement, the IDF said soldiers “opened and secured a passage which enables the civilian population to evacuate, on foot and by ambulances” from the three facilities.
The IDF’s announcement came a day after spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a briefing that staff at Al-Shifa had “requested that tomorrow we help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital.”
Asked on Sunday whether the IDF had assisted hospital staff in transferring the babies to a safer hospital, a spokesperson did not respond.
Abusada said he was not aware of anyone at the hospital, patients or otherwise, leaving the facility on Sunday. He said fighting outside made that impossible. Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a plastic surgeon at Al-Shifa hospital, similarly said he was not aware of anyone who had yet been able to evacuate.
Meanwhile, images from Al-Shifa show an increasingly dire scene. Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who has worked in hospitals in Gaza for years and is currently in Cairo, shared a photo with NBC News that Abusada sent him during a rare moment of internet access.
The image shows babies wrapped in blankets and lined up in rows on hospital beds. At least one appears to have tape on their face, which is usually used to keep oxygen tubes in place.
“The Palestinian doctors and nurses have done everything they can to save their lives,” Gilbert said, adding that he has been in regular communication with staff at Al-Shifa.
Similar images sent by El Mokhallalati, meanwhile, also show babies lying side by side with tape and tubes attached to their faces. He said those in the neonatal unit had to be taken off incubators that couldn’t be kept running. To keep the infants warm, El Mokhallalati explained, doctors moved them to a temperature-controlled operating room.