Gaza hospitals’ evacuation efforts falter amid heavy fighting

TEL AVIV — Efforts by health workers to evacuate some of Gaza’s biggest hospitals appear to be failing Monday despite promises from Israeli forces to allow those wounded and sick to go south, according to doctors.

And the director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has warned that all of its aid operations in Gaza will soon “grind to a halt” because of the lack of fuel in the besieged enclave.

Despite promises of an evacuation effort from Israeli forces on Sunday, doctors at Al-Shifa hospital said they were not aware of anyone leaving the facility.

Dr. Nidal Abu Hadrus, a neurosurgeon at Al-Shifa, told NBC News that it was impossible for people to leave with the sounds of bombing and shooting outside. The IDF has said there have been “intense battles” around the facility.

“It is not safe to move out. It is not safe to stay. We don’t know what to do,” he said. “Please help us.” He said staff at the hospital had asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to help facilitate evacuations from the hospital.

Alyona Synenko, a spokesperson for the ICRC, said discussions were underway, but she said she could not provide specific details on the evacuation efforts.

“Evacuating a hospital is an extremely risky and extremely complex enterprise,” she said. “We can’t just, you know, go and like, through the bullets, through the fighting and pick up people in life support and move them.”

“We have to be realistic about what … is possible to achieve under the current conditions,” she said, saying it was a “difficult and frustrating” situation. “It’s heartbreaking to be receiving those calls and not being able to respond to them,” she said.

Abu Hadrus said he worries about what will happen if help doesn’t come soon. “After one or two days more, I’m not sure that we will be able to move out of the hospital, because I’m not sure who will remain alive,” he said.

A wounded Palestinian child receives medical attention in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.A wounded Palestinian child receives medical attention in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.Mohammed Talatene / picture-alliance/ AP

Israeli military officials say they do not target civilians and are instead pursuing Hamas, which they say hides in tunnels in Gaza, including under hospitals and, specifically, under Al-Shifa — allegations that both Hamas and hospital workers have denied.

NBC News journalists on the ground in the region are unable to report from the hospitals because of the heavy fighting in the area.

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While Israel has instituted “pauses” in fighting for humanitarian reasons and have been urgingPalestinians to move out of the north for weeks, the route south is dangerous and many have been killed on the way. In addition, southern Gaza has also faced bombardment during Israel’s offensive.

Dr. Marwan Abusada, a surgeon and the head of international cooperation at the Health Ministry at Al-Shifa Hospital, agreed it wasn’t safe to move.

“No one gets out. … No one comes in,” he said Monday in a phone call. People in the hospital are afraid of being shot if they go outside, he said.

Abusada said he was not aware of anyone leaving the hospital over the weekend, despite the IDF saying it would open an evacuation corridor from the hospital to southern Gaza after receiving a request from staff at Al-Shifa to help evacuate 36 babies at risk of dying following the deaths of three other infants, according to Palestinian health officials.

NBC News was not immediately able to reach workers at the facilities.

Patients and internally displaced people crowd into Al-Shifa hospital Friday.Patients and internally displaced people crowd into Al-Shifa hospital Friday.AFP – Getty Images

IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said at a briefing Saturday that staff members at Al-Shifa had “requested that tomorrow we help the babies in the pediatric department to get to a safer hospital.” The IDF said it was opening evacuation corridors not only from Al-Shifa but also from two other hospitals in Gaza City, Al-Rantisi and Al-Nasr.

Hagari said Sunday night that Al-Rantisi and Al-Nasr hospitals had been evacuated as far as the IDF was aware.

Israel’s military on Monday accused Hamas of using the basement of Al-Rantisi hospital to house hostages after the Oct. 7 attack. In a video, Hagari speaks to the camera from a room he says is in the Al-Rantisi hospital and where he says the Israeli military believes hostages were held at one point.

He points out a baby bottle and diapers. In another area, he shows what appear to be explosives, hand grenades and RPGs, and a motorcycle that appears to have a bullet hole in it, which he says may have been used in the attack.

NBC News has not independently verified the video or the IDF’s claims.

According to the World Health Organization, 600 patients remained at Al-Shifa on Monday.

Asked for updates on the evacuation efforts at Al-Shifa and to respond to reports from hospital staff that they were not aware of anyone evacuating, an IDF spokesperson did not respond directly to the question.

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Instead, the spokesperson said early Monday that soldiers were engaged in “intense battles” against Hamas in the area surrounding the hospital, “but not the hospital itself.”

‘Relentless bombardment’

An increasingly desperate situation was also unfolding at the Al-Quds Hospital, with the Palestine Red Crescent Society saying an evacuation convoy was forced to turn back after heading to the facility from southern Gaza.

“It had to do so due to relentless bombardment and (a) dangerous situation where the Hospital is located in Tel Al-Hawa,” PRCS said.

The IDF said a “terrorist squad embedded itself in the area of the Al-Quds” as it shared video appearing to show someone with an RPG launcher outside the facility. The IDF said RPG fire and small arms fire were directed at soldiers from the direction of the Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, saying a tank was damaged.

Palestinians arrive south of Gaza City after fleeing their homes in Gaza City and the Northern Gaza Strip.Palestinians travel south Sunday after fleeing their homes in the northern Gaza Strip.Mahmud Hams / AFP via Getty Images

The IDF said that militants hid in the hospital after firing RPGs, though it did not provide video evidence of that. It said troops “responded with fire and fired shells toward the sources of the fire,” killing “approximately 21 terrorists.”

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said any claims “about armed individuals launching projectiles from inside Al-Quds Hospital” were false. It said the video shared by the IDF “clearly shows that the armed individuals approached from the street while the occupation tanks were stationed in front of and shielded by the hospital, endangering the lives of medical teams and patients.”

The society maintained that there were “no armed individuals inside the hospital, and no shots have been fired from within. Everyone within the hospital are patients, their families, and the medical staff.”

As fighting continues outside Al-Quds, the Crescent Society warned that patients, as well as those sheltering at the hospital and medical workers had “no food, water, or electricity.” NBC News was not immediately able to reach medical workers at the facility.

Chantal Da Silva

Chantal Da Silva is a breaking news editor for NBC News Digital based in London. 

Erin McLaughlin

Erin McLaughlin is an NBC News correspondent.

Yasmine Salam

Yasmine Salam is an associate producer with the NBC News Investigative Unit. Previously she worked in the London Bureau, covering international stories.