Decomposing infants highlight cost of Israel’s war on Gaza’s hospitals

Ahram Online , Tuesday 5 Dec 2023

Two weeks after the forced evacuation of the Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital in north Gaza, a journalist stumbled on a grisly scene: the decomposing bodies of several infants who had been left behind, highlighting how the strip’s medical infrastructure has found itself firmly in the crosshairs of Israel’s war.

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Photo from the video of decomposed bodies of premature babies found in Gaza s Al Nasr Children s Hospital weeks after it was forcibly evacuated by Israeli army, Dec 2023

 

During last week’s ceasefire, Mohammed Baalousha, a journalist with the Emirati TV channel Al Mashhad, entered the building and found the bodies of five infants who had to be left behind when the hospital was evacuated on 10 November.

All were near catheters and ventilators and one infant appeared to still be connected to a machine that measures the oxygen levels in blood, with tanks of the gas nearby.

Reacting to the footage, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement saying the incident “represents an unspeakable tragedy, an unacceptable reality of how civilians – including babies and children – pay the price in conflict."

 

Forensic pathologists confirmed the timeline based on the level of decomposition.

Dr Mustafa Al-Kahlot, director of the hospital, said staff had concluded they could not safely evacuate the five infants, several of whom were premature and on oxygen when Israeli tanks encircled the facility.

"Our evacuation from Al-Nasr Hospital was very difficult and under fire," he told Sky News' US partner site NBC.

"Children [could not] be carried by hand or evacuated without oxygen equipment."

In footage taken before the evacuation, Dr Al-Kahlot is seen in the same hospital room, warning that the building was the target of bombings, and that one child had already died due to a "lack of oxygen."

This account was corroborated by an audio recording on 10 November by a nurse from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who was working in the hospital at the time, as per NBC.

He said the hospital was under fire from snipers, which was impeding the safe evacuation of the building.

"Five patients remained in the intensive care unit on the oxygen machine," he is heard saying in the recording. "We left them. We only took one baby."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also verified these claims, reporting that Israeli airstrikes hit the hospital on 9 November, cutting off the neonatal ICU’s oxygen supply.

“The attack forced staff to evacuate the next day, leaving babies that could not be transported alone in intensive care, according to Doctors Without Borders," HRW explained.

Pediatric units at risk
 

Al-Shifa Hospital – Gaza’s main hospital, located in the north of the strip – faced a similar situation, coming under intense bombardment by the Israeli army.

Without electricity for incubators, five premature babies died at Al-Shifa before the critically ill survivors were evacuated on 19 November, according to the UN.

On Tuesday, the Tal Al-Sultan Maternity Hospital in Rafah ran out of fuel for its generator, plunging the facility into a dire situation, the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital administration, in a distressing plea, squarely placed "responsibility for the lives of newborns, premature infants and the well-being of female patients on the shoulders of the occupying forces."

Since 7 October, Israel has killed more than 6,000 Palestinian children in Gaza, with the targeting of medical infrastructure compounding the harm.

"Israel’s bombardments have repeatedly forced maternity wards and reproductive health clinics to shut down or relocate," HRW indicated.

Israel also cut electricity to Gaza and banned for more than a month the entry of fuel needed to run generators that powered hospital equipment like incubators, despite World Health Organization (WHO) warnings that newborns would die.

The Palestine Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA)’s only service delivery center in Gaza was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on an adjacent building on 8 October, executive director Ammal Awadallah told Human Rights Watch.

Awadallah said midwives and healthcare workers in Gaza are “a lifeline for the estimated 180 women giving birth each day,” but attacks have forced them to provide care via telephone “when there is connectivity.”

 

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