December 8, 2023

As newborns perish at besieged Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza, human rights organizations are urging U.S. President Joe Biden to “intervene” and demanding that Israel cease its attacks in the territory.

Health officials in Gaza say Israel has laid siege to Shifa, making the hospital a deathtrap for the thousands of healthcare workers, patients and displaced people inside. While Israel has carried out airstrikes on the territory since the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas, Israeli officials have denied attacking the hospital, which has been left without electricity and vital supplies.

The hospital’s last generator ran out of fuel on Saturday, leading to the deaths of three premature babies and four other patients, the Associated Press reports, citing the Hamas-run Health Ministry

The Health Ministry said another 36 newborns are at risk of dying and that there are 1,500 patients at Shifa, 1,500 medical personnel, and more than 15,000 people seeking shelter at the hospital.

Al-Shifa Hospital director Muhammad Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera on Saturday that “medical devices stopped” and “patients, especially those in intensive care, started to die.”

The hospital director also said that Israeli troops were “shooting at anyone outside or inside the hospital.”

Newborns Die at Al-Shifa
Pictured is a newborn infant receiving care inside an incubator at a neonatal intensive care unit at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on September 29, 2022. Health officials in Gaza say Israel has laid siege to the hospital and blocked crucial supplies. As a result, officials said three premature babies had died after the hospital’s last generator ran out of fuel on November 11, 2023, while another 36 babies were at risk of dying because there was no electricity.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that Al-Shifa “is not functioning as a hospital anymore.”

A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told Newsweek in a statement on Sunday that IDF placed 300 liters (79 gallons) of fuel near Shifa Hospital overnight for an emergency generator powering incubators for premature babies as well as “other urgent medical use.” However, the military blamed Hamas and said the militant group prevented the hospital from receiving the fuel.

Israeli officials have claimed that Hamas operates its command headquarters underneath the Shifa Hospital complex. The Israeli military released an illustrated map of the hospital with alleged locations of underground militant installations, without providing additional evidence to support the claims. Hamas and hospital staff have denied these claims, according to the Associated Press.

IDF told Newsweek that forces are engaged in “intense battles” near the hospital, but said that, “Unlike Hamas, the IDF is taking all feasible measures under operational circumstances to mitigate harm to civilians.”

IDF said a humanitarian corridor has been established to allow people to evacuate from the hospital south of Wadi Aza, through the streets of Al Wahada and Salah al-din.

As the fighting near the complex wages on, advocacy groups say it inhibits civilians from being able to safely flee and puts those who can’t in mortal danger. Numerous people and organizations took to social media to demand a ceasefire.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, demanded that the Biden administration “urgently intervene to stop the Israeli government’s ongoing siege of Al Shifa Hospital.”

CAIR said in a statement on Saturday that if the White House allows the Israeli government to “murder” newborn babies there will be “no coming back.”

“The Biden administration must intervene right now, right this minute, to stop the unfolding crime against humanity at the largest hospital in Gaza,” the statement reads. “Besieging a hospital, using snipers to murder fleeing families, and cutting off resources needed to keep newborn babies alive is beyond the pale, even for Netanyahu’s openly racist, genocidal Israeli government. If the White House allows the Israeli government to murder these newborns, other patients and their doctors, there will be no coming back for this administration’s standing within our nation and around the world.”

Newsweek reached out via email on Sunday to representatives for CAIR and Biden.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a UK-based nonprofit that works with Palestinian communities to help “uphold their rights to health and dignity,” joined the call for a ceasefire on Sunday, saying that is the only option to save the three-dozen premature and critically ill neonates at Al-Shifa.

MAP’s Chief Executive Officer Melanie Ward said on Sunday in a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter, that babies in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit are dying from lack of oxygen as Al-Shifa has no electricity or fuel to run generators.

Ward warned that more newborns at that facility will die soon unless power is restored.

“The only safe option to save these babies would be for Israel to cease its assault and besiegement of Al Shifa, to allow fuel to reach the hospital, and to ensure that the surviving parents of these babies can be reunited with them,” Ward said.

In a subsequent post, Ward expressed concerns over the Israeli government’s plan to move the babies to a “safer” hospital.

“We are deeply concerned by uncritical media reporting regarding the Israeli military’s statement that it will help move premature babies trapped at the hospital to a ‘safer hospital,'” Ward said in a post, which contained a photo of rubble-filled roadways and heavily damaged buildings.

She said with ambulances unable to reach Al-Shifa and no nearby hospitals able to accept an influx of patients, there is “no indication” of a way to safely transport the newborns.

“It is imperative that the international community demands a #CeasefireNOW, allowing the hospital to operate safely,” Ward said in a follow-up post. “We say again international law must be upheld. The life of every patient, health worker and displaced person in Shifa is precious and must be protected.”

Newsweek reached out via email on Sunday night to MAP for comment.

Ghebreyesus also joined the calls on social media for an immediate ceasefire. In a post on X, he said that WHO officials have been in contact with Shifa Hospital staff, who described the situation as “dire and perilous.”

“It’s been 3 days without electricity, without water and with very poor internet which has severely impacted our ability to provide essential care,” the director general said in the post. “The constant gunfire and bombings in the area have exacerbated the already critical circumstances. Tragically, the number of patient fatalities has increased significantly. Regrettably, the hospital is not functioning as a hospital anymore. The world cannot stand silent while hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair. Ceasefire. NOW.”

In a televised address over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected growing international calls for a ceasefire without the release of the estimated 240 hostages taken by Hamas in the October 7 attack that sparked the unrest.

Israel has said its goal is to crush Hamas and will pursue militant fighters wherever they are. Experts and rights groups have accused Israel of committing war crimes, including genocide.

Israel has come under mounting international pressure over the plight of civilians in Gaza, where roughly 2.3 million Palestinians are trapped, half of them children. The Israeli government also cut off the supply of food, medicine, water, and electricity in Gaza, igniting a wave of criticism.

As of Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry says more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, while about 2,700 have been reported missing or thought to be trapped or dead under rubble, The Associated Press reported.

On the Israeli side, at least 1,200 people have been killed, most of them in the Hamas attack last month, the AP reported, adding that 46 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of the military’s ground offensive.