Twenty-nine 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 Hamas militants took during their 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 of 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 around 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 besieged Gaza and only a few hundred war-wounded and foreign passport holders have been allowed out.
On Monday, Egyptian media reported that 29 premature babies evacuated from Gaza’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, had been taken to safety in Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
A medical source told AFP the infants would be treated at El-Arish hospital 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of the Gaza Strip or be taken to Ismailia or Cairo.
The bloodiest-ever Gaza war has seen Israeli troops raid, occupy and evacuate Al-Shifa hospital in recent days, spurring hundreds to flee the area on foot toward southern Gaza.
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 in the rain.
“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.
The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,000 people, including thousands of children, according to the Hamas-run government, fuelling mounting global pressure for a ceasefire.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA has described a “collapse of services” at hospitals amid shortages of electricity, fuel and medical supplies.
Palestinian officials said a field hospital sent by Jordan entered the Gaza Strip Monday.
“The hospital will be established in Khan Yunis, to receive the wounded and the sick, under catastrophic conditions which southern hospitals are experiencing, with the influx of hundreds of wounded each day and continued 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 from October 7 of two male hostages, from Nepal and Thailand, being brought 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 the militant group of executing 19-year-old Israeli soldier Noa Marciano at Al-Shifa.
As intense urban combat raged in northern Gaza, another 20,000 people fled south on Sunday, according to the UN humanitarian agency.
Families walked amid rubble and along cracked roads as gunshots and explosions rang out in the distance.
“It’s like the apocalypse, it’s difficult, very difficult,” said one tearful woman, Renad al-Helou. “There are those who have lost sons and daughters, the wounded, pregnant women.
“We are tired. There’s no water, no food … There’s nothing left in Gaza. There’s only destruction, suffering and torture.”
The Israeli army said on Sunday it was taking the Gaza fight against Hamas to “additional neighbourhoods”.
Artillery and airstrikes destroyed several houses in central Gaza City, and doctors at the Al-Ahli hospital told AFP they had received dozens of dead and injured.
The Indonesian Hospital is located near the Jabalia refugee camp, where on Saturday a health official said more than 80 people were killed in twin strikes, including on a UN school sheltering displaced people.
Israel’s military has said Jabalia is among the areas of focus as they “target terrorists and strike Hamas infrastructure”.
Israeli forces were also reportedly pounding southern Gaza, where the Doctors Without Borders charity 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.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels on Sunday said they had seized in the Red Sea a cargo ship owned by an Israeli businessman and rerouted it to Yemen’s coast.
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’
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.
Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said: “I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal.”
But neither details nor a timeline were provided.
US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer also 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.”