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31 premature babies rescued from besieged Al-Shifa Hospital, health officials say

Thirty-one premature babies were safely transferred from Gaza's main hospital to another in the south on Sunday and will be moved to Egypt, health officials said, as scores of other critically wounded patients remained stranded there days after Israeli forces entered the compound.

Evacuation continues as U.S. tries to broker deal to pause Israel-Hamas fighting

An infant with bandages around their head is fed from a bottle.
A premature baby who was extricated from an incubator in Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City is fed as it receives treatment at a hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday. (Hatem Khaled/Reuters)

The latest:

  • 'Gaza health sector is totally destroyed,' health official tells CBC News.
  • Israel claims it has evidence Hamas has command centre under Al-Shifa Hospital.
  • Israel, U.S. and Qatar in negotiations to bring about release of Hamas hostages.

Health officials said 31 premature babies in "extremely critical condition" were transferred safely Sunday from Gaza 's main hospital and will go to Egypt, while over 250 patients with severely infected wounds and other urgent conditions remained stranded days after Israeli forces entered the compound to look for Hamas operations there.

The plight of the babies, along with Israeli claims against Al-Shifa Hospital, have become potent symbols in the devastating war between Israel and Hamas. An Israeli offensive has taken a heavy toll on Palestinian civilians, while Israel has accused Hamas of using Shifa and other hospitals as headquarters for military operations.

The newborns from the hospital, where power was cut and supplies ran out while Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants outside, were receiving urgent care in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. They had dehydration, hypothermia and sepsis in some cases, said Mohamed Zaqout, director of Gaza hospitals. Four other babies died in the two days before the evacuation, he said.

A World Health Organization (WHO) team that visited Shifa for an hour on Saturday said hospital corridors were filled with medical and solid waste, increasing the risk of infection for patients who were "terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation." Twenty-five staff stayed behind.

A WHO team assesses conditions at a hospital in Gaza City.
A humanitarian assessment team led by the World Health Organization visits Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Saturday. (WHO/Reuters)

The UN agency said the vast majority of patients had amputations, burns or other trauma, and many wounds were severely infected, with antibiotics unavailable. Missions were being planned to evacuate the remaining people to southern Gaza in the next 24 to 72 hours, "pending guarantees of safe passage," the WHO said.

"The Gaza health sector is totally destroyed, undermined," Marwan Jilani, director general of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told CBC's Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.

Israel claims Hamas tunnels under Al-Shifa

Later Sunday, Israel's army said it had strong evidence supporting its claims that Hamas maintains a sprawling command post inside and under Shifa. Israel has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end Hamas's rule in Gaza, following the militant group's wide-ranging attack into southern Israel six weeks ago.

The army said it found a tunnel 55 metres long, about 10 metres under the hospital's 20-acre complex, which includes several buildings, garages and a plaza. It said the tunnel included a staircase, blast-proof door and a firing hole that could be used by snipers.

CBC News hasn't been able to independently verify the Israel Defence Force's findings. 

The army also said an independent medical report had determined that a female Israeli soldier, Cpl. Noa Marciano, whose body was recovered in Gaza last week, had been killed by Hamas in the hospital. Marciano had earlier been injured in an Israeli strike Nov. 9 that killed her captor, according to Israel's intelligence assessment. The injuries were not life-threatening but she was then killed by a Hamas militant in Shifa, the army said.

WATCH | Israel releases video it says shows Hamas tunnel under Al-Shifa:

Israeli military releases video they say shows Hamas tunnel under Al-Shifa Hospital

3 months ago
Duration 2:23
The Israel Defence Forces released new video Sunday of what they described as a fortified tunnel dug by Palestinian militants under Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital. CBC's Irris Makler explains what the video purportedly shows and why its release is significant as Israel wages war against Hamas.

Hamas and hospital staff earlier denied the allegations of a command post under Shifa. Critics describe the hospital as a symbol of what they call Israel's reckless endangerment of civilians. Thousands in Gaza have been killed in Israeli strikes, and there are severe shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel in the besieged territory.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed the Israeli military's announcement and didn't deny that Gaza has hundreds of kilometres of tunnels. However, he said, "the Israelis said there was a command and control centre, which means that the matter is greater than just a tunnel."

Hostage negotiations

According to Israel, about 1,200 people, mainly civilians, were killed during an Oct. 7 attack in which it says Hamas also took some 240 captives back into Gaza.

Hamas has released four hostages, Israel has rescued one and the bodies of two were found near Shifa.

Israel, the United States and the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating a hostage release for weeks.

WATCH | Israel's ambassador to Canada calls for release of hostages: 

‘We hope for immediate release of the hostages,’ says Israel's ambassador to Canada

3 months ago
Duration 9:30
Rosemary Barton speaks with Israel's ambassador to Canada, Iddo Moed, about reports of a U.S.-brokered deal with Israel and Hamas, Canada's relationship with Israel, ceasefire calls, ground operations in Gaza and efforts to free hostages.

"We are hopeful that we can get a significant number of hostages freed in the coming days," Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, told ABC's This Week. He added, "We're talking about a pause in the fighting for a few days, so we can get the hostages out."

Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said "the sticking points, honestly, at this stage are more practical, logistical."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the three-member war cabinet would meet with representatives of the hostages' families on Monday evening.

Rafah crossing open again

Meanwhile, a new batch of people with ties to Canada desperate to flee escalating violence in the Gaza Strip has been approved to leave the besieged territory as of Sunday.

The names of 135 Canadians are now on a list of foreign passport holders cleared to cross into Egypt via the Rafah land crossing. That list is updated daily by Gaza's General Authority for Crossings and Borders.

WATCH | Canadian who got out worries for family in Gaza: 

Canadian who reached Cairo with her 4 kids worries for family still in Gaza

3 months ago
Duration 1:41
'Still now I can't talk with them, I can't call them, I am worried about them, they are not safe,' said Sabreen Fuad, whose family members remain in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war because they only have Palestinian documentation. Fuad, who is Canadian, and her four children were able to cross into Egypt and are scheduled to fly to Canada on Nov. 21.

A notice shared on the authority's Facebook page tells those cleared for travel to arrive at the border by 7 a.m. local time.

The most recent update from Global Affairs Canada, provided on Friday, said 376 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have been able to leave the Palestinian territory through the Rafah crossing.

With files from CBC News

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