Four days after it was seized by Israeli troops, the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital has become a “death zone,” the World Health Organization said, as 31 premature babies in extremely precarious health there were evacuated on Sunday.
Emergency medical workers from the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the W.H.O., a United Nations agency, transported the babies by ambulance from the hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City, to the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital in the city of Rafah, about 25 miles away in southern Gaza.
Officials in Gaza and Egypt have said the babies will then be brought to Egypt for treatment, though the timing was unclear.
The infants have captured global attention, coming to symbolize what Israel’s critics call the recklessness of its assault, and the heavy toll that has fallen on the most vulnerable since the military began pounding Gaza. The military campaign began after the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 that, the Israelis say, killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel.
The assailants also seized more than 200 others as hostages, the Israelis say, and took them back to Gaza. Negotiations aimed at releasing at least some of the hostages and observing a cease-fire were still underway Sunday night.
Since war began, more than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than 4,000 children, according to health officials in the Hamas-run territory.
The storming of Al-Shifa last week was a critical moment for Israel as it sought to expose what it called a Hamas military hub there amid searing international criticism over the Israeli decision to raid a medical center. On Sunday, the Israeli military released new videos that it said supported its contention that Hamas had been using the hospital to shelter fighters and store weapons, and to plan attacks.
Both the Palestinian armed group and Al-Shifa officials have denied that Hamas had an underground command center there.
Last week, the Israeli military took journalists from The New York Times to the hospital grounds to see the entrance to a stone-and-concrete shaft that it offered as evidence of a subterranean Hamas military operation. At the time, an Israeli commander said that soldiers, fearing booby traps, had not ventured down the shaft.
On Sunday, Israel’s military released two videos of what it said had been found inside the shaft: a 180-foot section of tunnel running about 30 feet below the Al-Shifa complex.
One of the videos, which appears to have been filmed by a drone, shows parts of a metal spiral staircase. A second, longer video starts out above ground and shows the descent to a cloister-like tunnel with cables along one wall that leads to what the Israeli military called a “blastproof door.”
The door had a “firing hole” in it, the Israeli military said. Such doors, it said, are used by Hamas “to block Israeli forces from entering the command centers and the underground assets belonging to Hamas.”
The Times verified that both videos were recorded at Al-Shifa Hospital.
The Israeli military also released videos on Sunday that it said showed two hostages, described as one Thai and one Nepali, being taken inside the hospital on Oct. 7. Military officials said those videos — which appeared to have been taken by cameras mounted inside the hospital — were recorded hours after the Hamas assault.
The Times verified the location of those videos as Al-Shifa, but not the identities of the men shown or the timestamps of the videos showing the hospital’s interior.
Taken together, Israeli military officials said, the videos are strong evidence that Hamas used the hospital area as part of its military operations.
Israeli forces were continuing operations at Al-Shifa, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said in a statement. Their top priority, he said, was uncovering information about the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Israel and Hamas have been trying to reach a deal to pause the fighting so that hostages can be released. But Jon Finer, President Biden’s deputy national security adviser, warned on Sunday that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” and that the fragile negotiations could fall apart.
The evacuation of the babies from Al-Shifa on Sunday was carried out “under extremely intense and high-risk security conditions,” a day after Israeli forces allowed a U.N. team to tour the hospital for an hour, the W.H.O.’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.
The babies had been in “rapidly deteriorating” condition following the “total collapse” of medical services at the hospital, but “their condition is now being stabilized,” UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, said in a statement on Sunday.
Health officials were trying to reunite the infants with their families — but that may be impossible in some cases. Some were born to mothers who were later killed in airstrikes or who died shortly after giving birth, doctors at Al-Shifa have said.
On Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry published a list of the 31 infants and issued a call for relatives to go to the hospital in Rafah to identify them, saying that the parents might be able to join the babies in Egypt.
When the U.N. team visited Al-Shifa on Saturday, 291 patients were there, according to the W.H.O. It said that several patients had died because medical services had been shut down and that heavy fighting continued nearby.
Members of the U.N. team found “evident” signs of shelling and gunfire at the hospital as well as a mass grave at the entrance that they were told contained more than 80 bodies, the W.H.O. said.
Amid fears that the war could ignite a broader regional conflict, the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen said on Sunday that it had hijacked an “Israeli ship” in the Red Sea in what it called a show of support for Palestinians.
The Israeli military called the episode a “grave event,” but said that it was “not an Israeli ship.” The vessel, it said, had been en route to India from Turkey, carrying an “international crew, without Israelis.” The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said that the vessel was British-owned and operated by a Japanese company.
News reports identified the ship as the Galaxy Leader, and it bore no obvious links to Israel. The ship sailed under the flag of the Bahamas — a popular place for ship registration because of tax advantages — and is listed as a vehicle carrier owned by an Isle of Man-based company, according to Marine Traffic, a maritime data platform.
As Israel has continued to seize control of northern Gaza, it has been urging residents to move south for their own safety. On Saturday, hundreds of patients and civilians who had been sheltering at Al-Shifa left the complex.
They were part of a mass migration of about 10,000 people who trekked from northern to southern Gaza on Saturday, using a route designated by the Israeli military for the safe passage of civilians, according to the United Nations.
But as more civilians have sought refuge in the south, they have put increasing strain on the hospitals there, which are already overwhelmed, according to the W.H.O. and Gazan health officials.
Al-Helal Emirati Maternity Hospital, where the premature babies were taken on Sunday, posted a video of its neonatal intensive care unit on Saturday in which an unnamed doctor warned that the hospital would run out of fuel by Monday.
For premature babies, “this is a death sentence carried out the moment the electricity is cut off,” the doctor said.
On Saturday, a United Nations-run school in the Jabaliya area north of Gaza City, where an estimated 7,000 people had been sheltering, was hit by a strike that killed at least 24 people, U.N. officials said on Sunday.
UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees, did not suggest who was responsible for the attack. But it said that the school, Al-Fakhura, was also hit by a strike on Nov. 4 that had killed at least 12 people and wounded 54.
The Israeli military said that it had received reports of an incident on Saturday in the Jabaliya area and that it was under review. It said it was “committed to international law, including taking feasible steps to minimize harm to civilians.”
Since the war began, at least 176 people sheltering in UNRWA schools have been killed and nearly 800 have been injured, even though most of the buildings have been clearly marked with blue flags, the agency said.
“This is yet another proof that no one, and nowhere, is safe in Gaza,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, said in a statement on Sunday.
Reporting was contributed by Iyad Abuheweila, Abu Bakr Bashir, Shuaib Almosawa, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Aaron Boxerman, Shuaib Almosawa, Vivian Nereim, Katie Rogers, Anushka Patil and Aric Toler.