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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

28 premature babies evacuated from Gaza arrive in Egypt. Others never had the chance.

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg

Twenty-eight premature babies who had been in intensive care at the embattled Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza Strip were transported across the border to Egypt for medical care Monday, according to the United Nations and an Egyptian state television network, Al Qahera News. But five others who had been cared for at the hospital died before they could be evacuated.

The babies had become a symbol of civilian suffering at the hospital, which was surrounded by Israeli forces last week and then raided. They were taken from there Sunday to the southern city of Rafah, site of the territory’s only functioning border crossing.

“The Palestine Red Crescent ambulance teams departed from in front of the Emirati Hospital in Rafah to transport 28 premature infants to the Rafah Crossing, in preparation for their transfer to receive medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals,” the Red Crescent said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Al Qahera News later reported that the ambulances had crossed the border.

Thirty-one premature babies had been evacuated from Shifa to southern Gaza, the Red Crescent and the World Health Organization said. It was not immediately clear why three of them had not been taken to Egypt.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which said it had helped organize the evacuation, said on social media that five other babies “had already died due to lack of electricity and fuel” at Shifa. Israel imposed a siege on Gaza, blocking fuel, food and water, after Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel and killed around 1,200 people.

WHO, which is a United Nations agency, said in a statement Sunday that 11 of the babies were in critical condition and that all were fighting serious infections. None were accompanied by family members.

UNICEF, which said it had participated in the “extremely dangerous” evacuation effort, said the conditions of the babies had been “rapidly deteriorating.” It said that the babies had been moved to Rafah in temperature-controlled incubators.

The Israeli military said in a statement it had helped to facilitate the evacuation from the pediatric ward and provided incubators to Shifa. It was not clear whether those were the incubators used to transport the babies.

WHO’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, posted a photograph on X of a staff member in a blue U.N. helmet and bulletproof vest scooping up a tiny infant. The babies, along with six health care workers and 10 family members of hospital employees, were evacuated “under extremely intense and high-risk security conditions,” he wrote.

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