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Birth and Death Intertwined in Gaza Strip

Maternity Care Facilities Gravely Affected by Strikes, Blockade

A Palestinian doctor in a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip prepares a premature baby to be transferred to Egypt to receive proper medical care, November 20, 2023.  © 2023 Mohammed Talatene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo

On November 9, Israeli airstrikes hit Al-Nasr Medical Center in Gaza City, cutting off the neonatal intensive care unit’s oxygen supply. The attack forced staff to evacuate the next day, leaving babies that could not be transported alone in intensive care, according to Doctors Without Borders. On November 28 during the ceasefire, doctors were able to return and found four babies dead.

Gaza authorities report that more than 6,000 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7. That attack killed at least 33 children, according to Israeli authorities, and 40 children were taken hostage.

Israel’s response included bombardments that have repeatedly forced maternity wards and reproductive health clinics to shut down or relocate. Israel also cut electricity to Gaza and banned for more than a month the entry of fuel needed to run generators that powered hospital equipment like incubators, despite World Health Organization (WHO) warnings that newborns would die.

The Palestine Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA)’s only service delivery center in Gaza was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on an adjacent building on October 8, executive director Ammal Awadallah told Human Rights Watch. Awadallah said midwives and healthcare workers in Gaza are “a lifeline for the estimated 180 women giving birth each day,” but attacks have forced them to provide care via telephone “when there is connectivity.”

Awadallah said a colleague was providing pre- and post-natal services in a shelter “after her house was demolished by the bombings,” while PFPPA’s social worker was “trying to provide support” from his relative’s home. The WHO reported 22 healthcare workers have been killed in “attacks on health care” in Gaza as of November 21.

Israeli military operations forced the maternity ward of Gaza’s main hospital, al-Shifa, to evacuate to Al-Helou International Hospital, originally a cancer facility. An Israeli shell later struck al-Helou, according to the WHO. Without electricity for incubators, five premature babies died at al-Shifa before survivors were evacuated on November 19, according to the United Nations. As of November 20, all evacuated babies were “fighting serious infections” and a third were “critically ill,” according to the WHO.

Under the ceasefire agreement, 36 Israeli children taken hostage have been reunited with their families. All civilians held hostage must be released; hostage-taking is a war crime. Israel has increased the fuel and humanitarian aid it allows to enter Gaza, but it’s not nearly enough. The Israeli government should immediately end unlawful attacks on medical facilities and its blockade of Gaza; the collective punishment of 2.2 million people is a war crime.


Correction, December 4, 2023: This dispatch has been corrected to reflect that the number of babies found dead on November 28 at Al Nasr medical complex was four, based on a December 3 news report

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