Palestinian Territories – Twenty-eight premature babies were evacuated from war-torn Gaza to Egypt on Monday, as the Hamas-run health ministry accused Israel of a deadly attack on the territory’s Indonesian Hospital.
As fighting intensified, negotiators worked to seal a deal to release some of the roughly 240 hostages Islamist militants took during the unprecedented Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.
The Gaza Health Ministry accused the Israeli army of having killed at least 12 people in the attack on the Indonesian Hospital, in the north of the Palestinian territory, where entire blocks of the city were reduced to rubble.
The dead included patients, said Ashraf al-Qudra, a ministry spokesman.
Hamas authorities have reported a total death toll of more than 13,300, mostly civilians, in the Israel-Hamas war, now in its seventh week.
By Monday evening, Qudra said that around 100 patients had already been evacuated from the Indonesian Hospital, in coordination with the Red Cross.
READ: Hostage agreement between Israel and Hamas is closer despite fierce fighting in Gaza
Hundreds remained indoors but efforts continued to transfer them to hospitals in southern Gaza, Qudra added.
Israel did not immediately comment.
The military continued its withering air and ground campaign aimed at destroying Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks that, according to authorities, killed around 1,200 people when the militants broke through the militarized Gaza border.
“We are witnessing a slaughter of civilians unparalleled and unprecedented in any conflict since I have been Secretary-General,” said United Nations chief António Guterres.
More than 2.4 million Palestinians are trapped in Gaza and only a few hundred war wounded, foreign citizens and dual passport holders have been allowed to leave.
On Monday, the UN’s World Health Organization said 28 premature babies evacuated from Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, had been taken to safety in Egypt via the Rafah crossing, revising down a figure provided by the media. Egyptian.
“All the babies are battling serious infections and continue to require healthcare,” the WHO said, while the Israeli army said it had “helped facilitate” the transfer.
In Israel’s commercial hub, Tel Aviv, the families of Israeli children held hostage by Hamas were among hundreds of people who demonstrated in front of the UN children’s fund, urging them to rally for their release.
Yoni Asher, whose daughters, four-year-old Raz and 2-year-old Aviv, are among the captives, called on UNICEF to take a public stance on Israeli children “as you specifically refer to babies on the other side.”
Air raid sirens warning of incoming Hamas rockets brought the rally to a sudden halt, sending some people running for shelter while others threw themselves to the ground.
US President Joe Biden said on Monday he believes a deal to release hostages in Gaza is close. “I believe so,” he said during a White House ceremony.
The Red Cross said its president traveled to Qatar to meet with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and separately with officials from the emirate, who helped broker hostage negotiations.
The bloodiest war ever in Gaza saw Israeli troops invade, occupy and evacuate Al-Shifa hospital.
Israel, backed by the United States, argues that Hamas used vast networks of tunnels beneath Al-Shifa for military purposes. He showed recovered weapons and, on Sunday, said he had discovered a 55-meter tunnel.
READ: Tentative agreement in Gaza reached to release some hostages and stop fighting – report
It also released CCTV footage showing two male hostages being brought into the facility.
Militants and medical staff have denied that there is a command center beneath the hospital, and Israel has yet to reveal evidence of a large underground military headquarters.
The charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Monday on X, formerly Twitter, that its clinic in Gaza City was under attack “as intense fighting raged around it. An Israeli tank was seen in the street.”
Twenty-one people inside are “in extreme danger”, MSF said.
‘Like the apocalypse’
The alarm was raised by the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where cold autumn rains deepened the misery, drenching families living in tents and turning dust into mud.
The WHO warned of the spread of the disease, with 44,000 cases of diarrhea and 70,000 acute respiratory infections registered in shelters.
With most of Gaza’s hospitals no longer functioning, the territory on Monday received from Jordan what Palestinian authorities said was its first field hospital since the start of the war.
It has a capacity for 41 beds, Jordan’s royal palace said.
Israel told Palestinians to leave northern Gaza for their safety, but deadly airstrikes continued to hit the central and southern areas.
Families walked along potholed roads as gunshots and explosions rang out in the distance.
“It’s like the apocalypse,” said a tearful woman, Renad al-Helou.
“We are tired. There is no water, there is no food… There is nothing left in Gaza. There is only destruction, suffering and torture.”
On Monday, a senior Israeli military official told journalists that if the army wants to put an end to Hamas’ firepower, “we have to go south. We can’t do that without” going there.
The Gaza war has raised fears of a wider conflagration in the Middle East, where Israel has long faced archenemy Iran and its allies.
The Lebanese Hezbollah movement, backed by Iran and an ally of Hamas, said it attacked troops in northern Israel with drones, artillery and missiles on Monday, alleging a series of new attacks.
In response to missile launches by “a terrorist cell,” Israel’s military said tanks, a fighter jet and a helicopter struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.
Yemen’s Huthi rebels, backed by Iran, said on Sunday they had seized a cargo ship in the Red Sea with links to an Israeli businessman.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the ship “was hijacked at Iran’s direction by the Yemeni Huthi militia,” a claim Iran rejected.
During a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday, King Abdullah II of Jordan called for a ceasefire in Gaza and an “end to the siege.”
He warned of the “catastrophic effects of the ongoing horrific war, which is killing innocent and defenseless civilians”, as well as the increase in settler violence in the occupied West Bank.
Israel refused to heed calls for a ceasefire before Hamas released all hostages.
South Africa, long a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, will host a virtual summit of the BRICS group of nations on Tuesday to discuss the Israel-Hamas war.
On the eve of the event, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had recalled its ambassador in Pretoria for consultations.