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Premature Gaza babies evacuated to Egypt

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• Deal to free hostages, pause fighting edging closer, say US, Israeli officials

A group of 28 prematurely born babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital were taken into Egypt for urgent treatment yesterday, while Palestinian health authorities said people were killed inside another Gaza hospital encircled by Israeli tanks.

The newborns had been in North Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital, where several others died after their incubators were knocked out amid a collapse of medical services during Israel’s military assault on Gaza City.

Meanwhile, despite continued fighting, United States and Israeli officials said a Qatari-mediated deal to free some of the hostages held in the Palestinian enclave and pause fighting temporarily to enable aid deliveries to stricken civilians was edging closer.

About 240 hostages were taken during a deadly cross-border rampage into Israel by Hamas militants on October 7.

Israeli forces seized Al Shifa last week to search for what they said was a Hamas tunnel network built underneath.

Live footage aired by Egypt’s Al Qahera TV showed medical staff carefully lifting tiny infants from inside an ambulance and placing them in mobile incubators, which were then wheeled across a car park towards other ambulances.

The babies had been transported on Sunday to a hospital in Rafah, on the southern border of Hamas-ruled Gaza, so their condition could be stabilised ahead of transfer to Egypt.

All of the evacuated babies were ‘fighting serious infections’, a World Health Organisation spokesperson said.

Eight infants have died since doctors at Al Shifa originally raised an international alarm that this month about 39 premature babies were at risk from a lack of infection control, clean water and medicines in the neo-natal ward.

At another hospital, funded by Indonesia, Gaza’s health ministry said, at least, 12 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded by firing into the complex encircled by Israeli tanks.

At press time, there was no immediate comment from the Israeli military about the situation at the hospital where health officials said 700 patients along with staff were under Israeli fire.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA said the facility in the North East Gaza town of Beit Lahia had been hit by artillery rounds. Palestinian health officials said there were frantic efforts to evacuate civilians out of harm’s way.

Hospital staff denied there were any armed militants on the premises. Israel says its forces in Gaza are attacking ‘terror infrastructure’ and accuse Hamas of waging war behind human shields, including in hospitals. The Islamist group denies this.

“We had information earlier that tanks were besieging the Indonesian Hospital. Unfortunately…, communications there are almost cut,” Nahed Abu Taaema, director of Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza City of Khan Younis, told Reuters.

“We are very concerned about the fate of our colleagues and the fate of wounded and patients as well as (displaced) people who may have still (been) sheltering there. No ambulances can reach them, and we’re afraid the wounded will die.”

Indonesia condemned what it called Israel’s ‘attack’ on the hospital set up with Indonesian funding in 2016, saying it clearly violated international humanitarian laws, and urged countries close to Israel to get it to stop the violence.

Like all other health facilities in the northern half of Gaza, the Indonesian Hospital has largely ceased operations but is still sheltering patients, staff and displaced residents.

Israel has ordered the total evacuation of the North, but thousands of civilians remain, many sheltering in hospitals. Food, fuel, medicines and drinking water have been running out across the enclave under Israel’s six-week-old siege.

In the South, where hundreds of thousands of Gazans who fled the North of the enclave are sheltering, at least 14 Palestinians were killed in two Israeli strikes on houses in Rafah, according to Gaza health authorities. There was no immediate Israeli comment on the incident.

Witnesses also reported bouts of heavy fighting between Hamas gunmen and Israeli forces trying to advance into North Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, home to 100,000 people and, according to Israel, a significant militant stronghold.

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