Premature babies taken to Egypt as Indonesian Hospital besieged by Israeli forces

Indonesia condemns attack on hospital in northern Gaza that killed at least 12 people

Palestinian medics care for premature babies evacuated from Gaza city's Al Shifa Hospital before their transfer to Egypt. AFP
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Dozens of premature babies who were fighting for their lives at Al Shifa Hospital arrived in Egypt on Monday, as 12 people were killed when Israeli forces attacked and surrounded another medical centre in Gaza.

Twenty-eight premature babies arrived in Egypt after passing through the Rafah crossing.

A UN team safely evacuated 31 premature babies – 15 girls and 16 boys – on Sunday from Al Shifa, where services have collapsed due to a lack of fuel. They were taken to Rafah, where three stayed behind – one because its parents had not been identified and another because the parents had not signed consent forms, a doctor told the BBC.

“There are only four mothers among the parents travelling with their babies,” a doctor who accompanied the babies from Al Shifa to Rafah told The National.

“I am so tired of this situation. It's unbearable.”

Four other babies died in the past week as Israeli forces continued to besiege Al Shifa Hospital complex, which troops stormed on November 15.

Israeli forces also besieged the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza on Monday. About 650 patients and another 5,000 displaced people had been sheltering in the hospital for weeks and are now trapped as tanks and snipers surround the building.

“The Israeli occupation is pushing the Indonesian Hospital into its circle of death,” said Ashraf Al Qudra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry.

“This morning, the occupation hit the hospital with artillery and sniper fire. It is now under a full siege.”

He said Israeli forces had “committed a massacre” in killing 12 people and wounding dozens more, and warned the death toll could rise as the hospital had lost some of its crucial medical capabilities.

“The Israeli occupation is trying to copy what it did in Al Shifa Hospital here,” Mr Al Qudra said. “If this hospital falls, then it will become a massive graveyard.”

The hospital is the only partially operational medical institute in the north of Gaza, according to the ministry.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned the attacks on the hospital.

“The attack is a clear violation of international humanitarian laws. All countries, especially those that have close relations with Israel, must use all their influence and capabilities to urge Israel to stop its atrocities,” she said.

Nur Ikhwan Abadi, an engineer with the MER-C aid group in Jakarta, managed the construction of the hospital. He last heard from staff there 10 days ago.

“We haven't been able to do anything for two weeks,” he told The National.

“We ordered food from our supplier, and they started cooking for people inside the hospital, they made a big kitchen in the north – and then Israel bombed the area.

“We can't distribute any food or medicine. Even if we make contact with them, we can't do anything.”

He said a lack of supplies and several conflicts with Israel meant the hospital took three extra years to build. Having been to Gaza many times, watching the conflict unfold from afar has taken a personal toll.

“The staff at the hospital, the ministry team, the people of Gaza … they were very, very nice. They made us feel at home. We built that hospital with love for the Palestinian people, so seeing this war is very sad as we can't do anything,” he said.

“If Israel wants war, face the fighters in another area. This is only for humanitarian purposes, to take care of the injured. Don't touch public areas.

“Don't touch hospitals, don't touch schools, mosques churches. If you think you have great soldiers, go and fight them in another place.”

Israeli snipers are reportedly positioned on top of surrounding buildings, preventing ambulances from reaching the compound to transport the wounded.

Marwan Abdallah, a medical worker at the Indonesian Hospital, told the Associated Press that Israeli tanks were visible from the windows.

“You can see them moving around and firing,” he said. “Women and children are terrified. There are constant sounds of explosions and gunfire.”

Despite an international outcry against Israel’s bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps in Gaza that has so far killed more than 12,000 Palestinians, Israeli troops have focused their operations on several of Gaza’s medical facilities, which it says house “terror tunnels” used as bases by Hamas militants.

Hamas denies the claims.

The Israeli army on Sunday said it uncovered a tunnel under Al Shifa that stretched 55 metres under the complex, and that Hamas had used the hospital to shelter hostages taken during the October 7 attack.

About 1,200 Israelis, including children, died in the surprise attack, down from an initial estimate of 1,400.

The army also broadcast footage allegedly showing hostages being dragged into Al Shifa. Hamas rejected Israel's claim, and said it had already mentioned taking wounded hostages to hospital and claimed the footage was not a new revelation.

More than 250 patients who are severely wounded still remain at Al Shifa Hospital.

Updated: November 21, 2023, 7:19 AM