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28 Gaza babies evacuated as Hamas reports deadly hospital strike

AFP . Palestinian Territories
20 Nov 2023 21:19:09 | Update: 20 Nov 2023 21:19:09
28 Gaza babies evacuated as Hamas reports deadly hospital strike
This picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing following an Israeli strike on the Palestinian territory on November 20, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement — AFP Photo

Twenty-eight premature babies were evacuated from war-torn Gaza to Egypt on Monday as the Hamas-run health ministry accused Israel of launching a deadly strike on the territory's Indonesian Hospital.

Frantic diplomatic efforts were meanwhile underway to seal a deal for the release of some of the 240 hostages the Islamist militants took during their bloody October 7 attacks on Israel.

The Gaza health ministry charged that Israel's army killed at least 12 people in a strike on the Indonesian Hospital in the Palestinian territory's north, a war zone where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble.

Those killed included patients, said Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for the ministry which has reported a death toll of more than 13,000 as the Gaza war rages on into its seventh week.

Dozens more were wounded and 700 people remained trapped inside the "besieged" medical centre, Qudra said.

Israel did not immediately comment but pushed on with its withering air and ground campaign aimed at destroying Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks it says killed 1,200 people.

More than 2.4 million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza and only several hundred war-wounded, foreign nationals and dual passport holders have been allowed out.

On Monday the UN World Health Organization said 28 premature babies evacuated from Gaza's biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, had been taken to safety in Egypt through the Rafah crossing, revising down by one a number given by Egyptian media.

"All babies are fighting serious infections and continue needing health care," the WHO said, while the Israeli army said it had "helped facilitate" the transfer.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has seen Israeli troops raid, occupy and evacuate Al-Shifa hospital.

Israel, backed by the United States, argues that Hamas has used vast tunnel networks below Al-Shifa for military purposes. It has shown recovered weapons but was yet to reveal evidence of a major military headquarters below ground.

After another Gaza building was hit, in Deir al-Balah south of Gaza City on Sunday, rescuers searched through the debris for survivors and bodies, using the lights of their mobile phones.

"There are only children and women in the house and no one else," exclaimed one resident. "How can that give them (the Israeli army) an excuse to hit it? ...  We don't have any equipment to pull people out from under the rubble."

'Like the apocalypse'

Alarm has surged over the dire humanitarian situation across Gaza where cold autumn rain has deepened the misery by soaking families living in tents and turning dust to mud.

The WHO warned of spreading sickness with 44,000 cases of diarrhoea and 70,000 acute respiratory infections registered in shelters.

A field hospital sent by Jordan entered Gaza on Monday to treat patients in the south despite "catastrophic conditions" marked by "aggressive aerial and artillery strikes," said Mohammed Zaqout, director-general of Gaza hospitals.

On Sunday Israel presented what it said was evidence Hamas used Al-Shifa to hide foreign hostages and to mask tunnels, charges the group denies.

Released images showed what Israel said was a 55-metre-long tunnel along with CCTV footage of two male hostages, from Nepal and Thailand, being taken there. 

"We have not yet located both of these hostages," army spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters. 

AFP could not immediately verify the footage. 

Israel also accused Hamas of executing 19-year-old Israeli soldier Noa Marciano at Al-Shifa. 

As intense urban combat raged in northern Gaza, many thousands more fled south on Sunday, said the UN humanitarian agency.

Families walked along cracked roads as gunshots and explosions rang out in the distance. 

"It's like the apocalypse," said one tearful woman, Renad al-Helou. 

"We are tired. There's no water, no food ... There's nothing left in Gaza. There's only destruction, suffering and torture."

'Humanitarian disaster'

The Israeli army said Sunday it was taking the Gaza fight against Hamas to "additional neighbourhoods".

Artillery and airstrikes destroyed several houses in Gaza City, and doctors at the Al-Ahli hospital told AFP they had received dozens of dead and injured.

Israeli forces were also reportedly pounding southern Gaza, where Doctors Without Borders said 122 casualties had arrived at a facility in Khan Yunis, 70 of them dead on arrival.

The Gaza war has sparked fears of a wider conflagration in the Middle East where Israel has long faced arch enemy Iran and its allies.

Israeli tanks, a fighter jet and a helicopter struck "terror infrastructure" of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah in Lebanon on Monday, in response to earlier missile launches from "a terrorist cell", the army said.

Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels on Sunday said they had seized in the Red Sea a cargo ship owned by an Israeli businessman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the ship "was hijacked with Iran guidance by the Yemenite Huthi militia", an allegation Iran rejected on Monday. 

'Hole in our hearts'

During a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday, Jordan's King Abdullah II called for a ceasefire in Gaza and an "end to the siege". 

He warned of the "catastrophic effects of the ongoing heinous war, which is killing innocent, defenceless civilians", as well as rising settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has refused to heed calls for a ceasefire before Hamas releases all hostages, among them infants, teens and pensioners. 

In London, the tearful father of missing nine-year-old Emily Hand begged for her to be freed. "There's just a big, big hole in all our hearts that won't be filled until she comes home again," he told AFP.

Qatari mediators on Sunday touted progress on a deal that would free some hostages and pause the fighting, pointing to only "very minor" practical challenges but giving no details or timelines.

US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told US media that negotiators were "closer than we have been in quite some time" to a deal. 

But he cautioned: "The mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed really does apply."