- LATEST DEVELOPMENTS:
- Mass graves being dug for around 100 dead bodies inside Al Shifa hospital grounds
- No plan in place to evacuate babies despite Israeli offer of mobile incubators
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Palestinians trapped inside Gaza’s biggest hospital were digging a mass grave on Tuesday to bury patients who died under Israeli encirclement, and said no plan was in place to evacuate babies despite Israel announcing an offer to send portable incubators.
Israeli forces have surrounded Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, which they say sits atop an underground headquarters of Hamas militants.
Hamas, Gaza’s ruling Islamist group, denies fighters are present and says 650 patients and 5,000-7,000 other displaced civilians are trapped inside the hospital grounds, under constant fire from snipers and drones. It says 40 patients have died in recent days, including three premature babies whose incubators were shut down when power went out.
Five weeks after Israel swore to destroy Hamas in retaliation for a cross-border assault by militants, the fate of the encircled hospital has become a focus of international alarm, including from Israel’s closest ally, the United States.
Ashraf Al-Qidra, Gaza’s health ministry spokesman, reached by telephone inside the hospital compound, said there were about 100 bodies decomposing inside and no way to get them out.
“We are planning to bury them today in a mass grave inside the Al Shifa medical complex. It is going to be very dangerous as we don’t have any cover or protection from the ICRC, but we have no other options the corpses of the martyrs began to decompose,” he told Reuters.
“The men are digging right now as we speak.”
Thirty-six babies are left from the neo-natal ward after three died. Without fuel for generators to power incubators, the babies were being kept warm as best as possible, lined up eight to a bed.
Israel announced on Tuesday that it was offering portable, battery-powered incubators so the babies could be moved. But Qidra said that so far no arrangements had been established to carry out any such evacuation.
“We have no objection to have the babies being moved to any hospital, in Egypt, the West Bank or even to the occupation (Israeli) hospitals. What we care most about is the wellbeing and the lives of those babies,” he said.
“The occupation is still besieging the hospital and they are firing into the yards from time to time. We still can’t move around, but sometimes doctors are taking the risk when they need to attend to patients.”
Israel denies the hospital is under siege and says its forces allow routes for those inside to exit. Medics and officials inside the hospital say this is not true and those trying to leave have come under fire. Reuters could not verify the situation independently.
Israel vowed to wipe out Hamas after the militant group’s fighters burst across the fence around the enclave and rampaged through Israeli towns killing civilians on Oct. 7. Israeli says 1,200 people were killed and around 240 were dragged back to Gaza as hostages in the deadliest day of its 75-year history.
But its response, including a total siege and constant bombardment of the small, densely populated…