June 19, 2024

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Premature babies were found dead and decomposing in Al-Nasr Hospital in Gaza

JERUSALEM – The nurse in the besieged hospital was caring for five infants. Babies born prematurely, the whereabouts of their parents a month after the war is unknown. Now he faces the toughest decision of his life.

It was the height of the Israeli attack on northern Gaza last month, and Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital was a war zone. The previous day, air strikes cut off oxygen supplies to the facility in Gaza City. Israeli tanks had surrounded the hospital complex, and the IDF was calling doctors and sending them text messages urging them to leave.

But ambulances were unable to safely reach Al-Nasr to transport the wounded, and doctors refused to leave the facility without their patients.

The five premature babies were particularly at risk. They needed oxygen, and medications were given at regular intervals. There were no portable respirators or incubators to transport them. Without life support, the nurse feared they would not survive the evacuation.

The Israeli army then issued an ultimatum, Al-Nasr director Bakr Qaoud told the Washington Post: Get out or be bombed. Meanwhile, an Israeli official confirmed that ambulances would be arranged to transport patients.

The nurse, a Palestinian man working with the Paris-based organization Doctors Without Borders, saw no other option. He assessed his charges and picked up the strongest one, the one he thought would be most likely to withstand a temporary interruption in his oxygen supply. He reluctantly left the other four on their breathing machines and headed south with his wife, their children and only child.

“I felt like I was leaving my children behind,” said the nurse, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy. “If we had the ability to take them, we would have done so,” [but] “If we took away the oxygen from them, they would have died.”

Two weeks later, the cessation of hostilities allowed a journalist from Gaza to venture into the hospital. In the neonatal intensive care unit, Muhammad Baalousha made this horrific discovery.

The decomposing bodies of the four children. Eaten by worms. Blackened due to mold. Baalousha said that stray dogs were attacked.

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He told the newspaper: “A terrible and horrific scene.” He took the video.

This horrific discovery was a reminder of the heavy losses inflicted on civilians during the war launched by Israel to eliminate Hamas, a campaign that did not spare hospitals or children. Thousands have been killed.

The current hostilities erupted on October 7, when Hamas and allied fighters emerged from Gaza to attack Israeli communities near the Strip, killing about 1,200 Israelis and kidnapping 240 others. Israel responded with a full blockade, air strikes and ground operations that killed more than 15,200 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, including thousands of children.

Israel has long accused Hamas of hiding command and control centers in hospitals. The Biden administration has supported this claim. Hamas and the medical staff in Gaza deny this.

However, Israeli leaders have made the region’s healthcare infrastructure the focus of the military campaign. After a month of war, that included victory.

It was November 10 when Israeli forces told Al-Nasr staff that they had to leave, according to Qaoud, the hospital director. “They sent us a map of a safe route,” he told The Post in a WhatsApp message. “They gave us half an hour to get out. Otherwise, they would bomb the hospital.”

It appears that an official at the nearby children’s cancer center in Al-Rantissi received confirmation that ambulances would transport patients from Al-Rantissi and Al-Nasr. In a phone conversation with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, an arm of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the Rantissi official requested ambulances. in A recording of that call was released by the Israeli Defense In the forces, a senior officer in the Coordination Unit of Government Activities in the Territories responded in Arabic: “There is no problem.”

A senior officer in the Government Coordination Unit in the regions told the Rantisi official that he would “arrange coordination” for the ambulances. It gives the exact route that the medical staff must take to exit the complex.

The Rantisi official reminds the Office for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories that employees will also evacuate Al-Nasr. The Government Coordination Officer agreed with the reminder.

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Qaoud also said that there is “coordination with the Red Cross and the Israeli army that we will leave, and then these cases will later be transferred to another safe hospital.”

Shani Sasson, spokeswoman for the Office for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, told the newspaper that Israeli forces did not direct Al-Nasr employees to evacuate and did not work inside the facility. She refused to answer whether the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories or the Israeli army had been informed about the infants or any action had been taken to care for them.

Sarah Davies, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem, said the agency provided no guarantees and was unable to safely reach the hospital.

The evacuation was painful. The nurse said there was no way to reach the children’s families. He had no contact information, and communications were cut off in most parts of Gaza. He thought that their parents were “displaced people. They knew that their children were in the hospital and did not think that the occupation would bomb or raid the hospital.

“They thought they left them safe.”

It was time to leave. The nurse gathered up the strongest baby, made sure his other breathing machines were working, then walked his family out of the hospital, still wearing his uniform, to begin the 18-mile trek, mostly on foot, south to Khan Yunis. .

On the road, the nurse found an ambulance to take the child in his arms to Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. Israeli forces will raid that facility within days. Ultimately, the World Health Organization evacuated 31 premature babies from recovery. By then, several other people had died.

On November 24, after nearly seven weeks of fighting, Israel and Hamas began a week-long truce to exchange prisoners and allow more aid into Gaza.

Baalousha, a journalist for the Dubai-based Al-Mashhad TV channel, took advantage of the relative calm to venture into Gaza City and report on the abandoned bodies. On Nabil Tammos Street, two bodies of a man and a woman were found. Someone had covered them with a blanket.

“the people [were] “It tells me that the most powerful story is in Al-Nasr Hospital,” Baalousha said. “They told me that premature babies were left in intensive care and that they were supposed to be saved,” but with the fighting, “no one got them out.”

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During the calm period, Israeli forces remained near the hospital, preventing civilian access to it. Undeterred, Baalousha “jumped from wall to wall” across the destroyed buildings to reach the medical complex.

When he approached the neonatal intensive care unit, he “started smelling a foul odor,” he said. He turned on his camera.

When Al-Mashhad TV broadcast the report, the remains were erased. The channel gave an unedited version of the video to The Post, which verified that it was recorded inside Al-Nasr’s pediatric intensive care unit by comparing it to pre-war photos of the facility.

The remains, still attached to breathing apparatus, bear little resemblance to corpses. They appear as piles of rotting flesh, protruding bones, and body parts that are difficult to distinguish. The dirty diaper remains wrapped around her waist.

Baalousha described the scene to the camera and quickly left the unit.

The nurse, who reviewed the video, said the bodies were found where the children were left. And no one came for them.

Kaoud, Al-Nasr’s director, said that the Israeli army “was informed of the presence of cases” inside the hospital, but that it was “determined to evacuate.”

Davis, the Red Cross spokeswoman, said that the organization “received several requests to evacuate hospitals in northern Gaza, but due to this security situation, we did not participate in any evacuations, and the teams did not comply with this.”

No one showed up to claim the bodies. The nurse said there was no indication that the parents knew their children had died.

He remains haunted by the event. He believes he needs psychological treatment.

He wonders: What is the fault of children?

“Were they fighters?” Asked. “Were they carrying weapons? Were they firing missiles?”

Why does the army strike oxygen and electricity? Why did the army target them?

Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo contributed to this report.