Two premature babies have died at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital after the neonatal intensive care unit stopped working due to a lack of electricity, the facility’s director has said.
Thirty-seven other babies, also in the neonatal intensive care unit, are at risk of losing their lives as the hospital runs out of fuel to power their incubators, Director Mohammed Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera on Saturday.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost two out of 39 babies because of the power outage,” Abu Salmiya, the head of the largest medical complex in Gaza, said. “We are talking about premature babies who require very intensive care.”
He explained that the two babies died because of a lack of fuel at the hospital which provides electricity to the incubators allowing for warm temperatures and a constant flow of oxygen. The hospital has been under siege and a target of fierce Israeli attacks.
“They died due to low temperatures and a lack of oxygen. We are now using primitive methods to keep them alive,” the director said.
“We have electricity until the morning. Once electricity is out, these neonates will die just like the others,” Abu Salmiya warned.
Mohammed Obeid, a surgeon at al-Shifa Hospital, confirmed the newborns’ deaths and said an adult patient also died because there was no electricity for his ventilator.
“We want someone to give us the guarantee that they can evacuate the patients, because we have about 600 inpatients,” he said, in an audio recording posted by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF).
‘Can’t provide safety to my newborns’
Ismail Yassin, the father of two premature baby girls – Mira and Dahab – at al-Shifa Hospital, said he was separated from the 33-day-old twins when he had to evacuate to southern Gaza with his wife.
“They had to stay behind in the incubators at al-Shifa. I cannot describe my feelings. I can’t provide safety to my newborn children,” he said, adding that he has appealed to the Red Cross and international organisations to help transfer his children.
“I want some information about my daughters. I hope they are all right. I want someone to transfer the girls from al-Shifa to me and their mother in the south,” he pleaded over the phone to Al Jazeera.
Witnesses at the hospital told the AFP news agency by phone that there was relentless gunfire, air raids and artillery fire which prevented people from moving even within the medical complex.
According to Abu Salmiya, the hospital has tried to arrange an evacuation with the Red Cross but it remains unclear if they can help.
“When we communicated with the Red Cross, requesting protection from them, they gave us permission to move the babies to another place within a single hour,” he said.
“We need a safe exit and safe transport with ambulances and incubators to keep them [the babies] alive. If these guarantees are offered by the Red Cross, we will do this.”
‘No help from Israeli army’
Abu Salmiya denied that the Israeli military offered to help transport the babies, despite his attempts to arrange an evacuation.
“I offered this to them [the Israeli army]. I offered to evacuate the babies to safe places, using ambulances, but they did not answer,” he explained.
The Israeli military said on Saturday that it would aid the evacuation of the babies.
“The staff of the al-Shifa hospital has requested that tomorrow [Sunday], we will help the babies in the paediatric department to get to a safer hospital. We will provide the assistance needed,” military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing.
Reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said that Hagari’s supposed plan to move the babies to another hospital seemed unrealistic.
“That puts up a number of questions. One, ‘How would that work? How would they safely be able to move the babies when there is fighting ongoing in the area?’” Fisher said.
“Secondly, to what hospital would they go? We are hearing from across the Gaza Strip that they are running out of essentials to treat the babies, including the premature.”
He added that Israel was possibly acting out of concern about criticism it had received about the situation at al-Shifa Hospital and the death of two of the babies.