Heavy fighting near Gaza’s largest hospital has left it in a “catastrophic situation,” with patients and staff trapped inside, ambulances unable to collect the wounded and life-support systems without electricity, health officials and aid agencies are reporting.
Hostilities around the hospital, Gaza’s largest, “have not stopped,” according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, with constant bombardment preventing evacuations and making it too dangerous for ambulance journeys, according to the organization.
A freelance journalist told CNN the situation is dire, with medics working by candlelight, food being rationed, and other resources dwindling.
Three newborn babies died after the hospital went “out of service” amid intense fighting in the area, according to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, which claims the hospital is surrounded on all four sides by Israeli forces and under “complete siege.”
The Israeli army told CNN it is engaged in “ongoing intense fighting” against Hamas in the vicinity of the hospital complex, but denies firing at the northern Gaza medical center and has rejected suggestions the hospital is under siege. Israel has said it is in touch with hospital leaders and has offered assistance with evacuations.
CNN has been unable to confirm whether anyone was able to leave the hospital complex over the past day.
Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, Director-General of the health ministry, told CNN that two of the babies at Al-Shifa Hospital died overnight Friday into Saturday after a shell struck nearby, shutting off the generator which had been powering incubators in the neonatal ward. Another died on Saturday morning.
Doctors were forced to carry out artificial respiration by hand on the 36 other babies in their care, Al-Bursh said. He later told CNN the babies were moved to a different part of the complex overnight after the neonatal unit ran out of oxygen. The babies were moved without incubators and were carried by hand to the hospital’s operating theaters where oxygen supplies are still running, he said.
Ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra said he was trapped inside the complex in northern Gaza, saying it was “out of service” after repeatedly being targeted by Israeli fire.
“The intensive care unit, pediatric department, and oxygen devices have stopped working,” al-Qidra said.
Medical charity MSF said it could not contact any of its staff at Al-Shifa Hospital who had described a “catastrophic situation” inside.
In a statement Saturday, the organization said “ambulances can no longer move to collect the injured, and non-stop bombardment prevents patients and staff from evacuating.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) also reported losing communication with contacts inside the hospital and described the situation on the ground as “deeply worrisome and frightening.”
“WHO is gravely concerned about the safety of health workers, hundreds of sick and injured patients, including babies on life support, and displaced people who remain inside the hospital,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on Sunday.
The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza reported shelling in the vicinity of the Al-Shifa Hospital as of early Sunday, warning that it was endangering patients and displaced people sheltering inside. CNN cannot independently verify this claim.
The Israeli army told CNN it was engaged in “ongoing intense fighting” against Hamas in the vicinity of the hospital, but refused to comment further on its forces’ proximity to the complex because military activity was still underway. However, it has denied claims that it was firing at the hospital or that it was under siege.
The IDF 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 Shifa and the militant group deny.
Senior Israeli Defense Ministry official Colonel Moshe Tetro said “there is no shooting at the hospital and there is no siege.” “The East Side of the hospital remains open. Additionally, [the military] can coordinate [with] anyone who wants to leave the hospital safely,” Tetro said in a statement.
In an IDF press briefing on Saturday, the military said it would help evacuate babies from the hospital’s paediatric unit on Sunday. “The staff of the Shifa Hospital has requested that tomorrow we will help the babies in the paediatric department get to a safer hospital. We will provide the assistance needed,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
Israel has been stepping up its offensive inside Gaza as part of its response to the surprise Hamas attacks that left 1,200 people dead.
Since then, Israel has been bombarding and blockading Gaza, an already impoverished and densely packed territory, leaving more than 11,000 people dead, according to Palestinian health officials. The assault has sparked escalating warnings about healthcare in Gaza.
The Director General for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), Robert Mardini, said the organization was “shocked and appalled by the images and reports coming from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.”
“The unbearably desperate situation for patients & staff trapped inside must stop. Now,” Mardini said in a post on X.
Staff and patients trapped
Al-Bursh at the health ministry said Al-Shifa Hospital was under “complete siege” with staff and patients unable to evacuate.
There are still more than 400 people being treated at the hospital and around 20,000 displaced people seeking shelter in the hospital complex, according to Al-Bursh.
He told CNN that there were more than 100 bodies wrapped in blankets on the ground within the hospital complex.
“We can’t bury them,” he told CNN by phone. The sound of explosions could be heard as he spoke.
CNN is unable to verify the number of dead at Al-Shifa Hospital.
Freelance journalist Mustafa Sarsour, who is based at the hospital, told CNN the conditions inside are terrible.
“The situation is very difficult and dire. After a slowdown in shelling this afternoon, the shelling and gun fire resumed, heavily targeting anything that moves,” Sarsour said, adding that medics inside the facility were working by candlelight and that food is growing scarce for both doctors and patients.
Al-Bursh said people who had been injured were instead being transported to the Al-Ahli Hospital as Al-Shifa was inaccessible.
Humanitarian agencies have been sounding the alarm about the situation at Al-Shifa Hospital. Angelita Caredda, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Middle East director, said in a statement that the group was “horrified by reports of relentless attacks on Gaza’s hospitals.”
“Patients, including babies, and civilians seeking relief are trapped under attack. It is an affront to wage war around and on hospitals,” she said.
Martin Griffiths, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, condemned attacks on healthcare facilities, saying in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that “there can be no justification for acts of war in health care facilities.”
Griffiths wrote that people using and working at Gazan healthcare facilities “must trust that they are places of shelter and not of war.”
UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children, called for the protection of hospitals in Gaza amid the “deeply worrying” situation in Al-Shifa.
It also called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. In a statement released early Sunday, UNICEF said: “Al Shifa hospital in Gaza is without power and we are seeing deeply worrying reports of premature babies dying in incubators.”
Other hospitals have been caught up in the fighting. On Friday the director of two facilities said Israeli tanks had them encircled.
Early Sunday, Jordan’s air force used parachutes to air-drop medical aid to the Jordanian field hospital in Gaza, the country’s prime minister said in a statement. It is the second time the country has air-dropped an aid package this month.
The relief operation took place in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to “enhance and develop the hospital’s capabilities and increase the ability of medical personnel to provide health and treatment services to alleviate the burden of the people in the Gaza Strip,” the statement said.
This story is being updated with additional developments.
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