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Patients and medics are trapped in Gaza hospitals as Israel and Hamas fight outside


Israeli ground forces are battling Hamas on the streets of Gaza City, with heavy fighting around the main hospital called Al-Shifa. And that adds to the concern about the fate of people inside - doctors and patients. Israel has urged Palestinians to evacuate all of northern Gaza, including this hospital and others around it. Doctors and patients argue they cannot comply. So what is it like in that hospital? NPR's Aya Batrawy is in Cairo. She's been talking with people in the hospital. Hey there, Aya.


INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

BATRAWY: Well, there are about a dozen hospitals facing these evacuation orders, and several have gone dark already over the weekend. There have been attempts by me and others to reach people in Gaza City and these hospitals, and we weren't able to. But some hospitals have also already been hit, and some including by airstrikes. So they've also come under attack. And Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa, on Saturday ran out of fuel completely. And that means that about 40 babies were taken out of their incubators. And at least two died already. Nurses at Al-Shifa are trying to keep them warm, putting them next to one another on hospital beds. Doctors Without Borders has medical teams at Al-Shifa. This is what the group's emergency coordinator, Paul Caney, told me today.

PAUL CANEY: Our staff is saying there is no electricity. People are staying in the corridors because of sniper fire near the windows and that they cannot move any - pardon me - none of the patients due to (inaudible).

BATRAWY: So Israel has not allowed any fuel to enter Gaza in over a month, but it did offer 300 liters of fuel to Al-Shifa on Sunday for its neonatal department. But statements from the Palestinian Health Ministry say there's no safe way for them to collect this fuel and that it wouldn't have powered the hospital for more than half an hour. So the offer was rejected, and patients are suffering inside.

INSKEEP: OK. So Israel says it offered fuel. What else is Israel saying about the crisis at that hospital?

BATRAWY: Well, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with CNN, and he again alleged that Hamas is using Al-Shifa Hospital as a command center for terrorism. Israel hasn't provided evidence for that claim, and Hamas denies this. But we may soon find out whose claim is true since Israeli forces are closing in on these areas in Gaza City. Netanyahu also put full responsibility for this war on Hamas. He said that the hospital is not under siege and that people can leave if they want. And he insisted again that the aim of this war is to destroy Hamas. That's the group behind the October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people there. And he's rejecting calls for a cease-fire, saying around 240 hostages should be released first.

INSKEEP: OK. So Netanyahu has said people can leave if they want. I guess we should add, if they are able. So let's interrogate that a little bit. I know there are now these humanitarian pauses with a kind of corridor going from Gaza City to the south, which people can take if they are able. What's happening with people, whether they're in a hospital or not? Are they getting out?

BATRAWY: Well, the U.N. relief agency, Steve, says there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the north, and they are struggling to survive. Food is running out for them. And again, a lot of these people cannot make this journey along this main road that Israel has designated for people to leave on because they have to walk for miles by foot. And so there are elderly and disabled people and, again, critically injured people and others who just cannot make that journey. And also, they can't get to that road safely. They're not able to evacuate the areas that they're in in northern Gaza and Gaza City to get there. And anyways, the south isn't that much safer for people. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says that of more than 11,000 people killed in this war already, including more than 4,500 children, at least 40% of these deaths were from airstrikes in the south, where people have been forced to flee.

INSKEEP: An update on one aspect of the Israel-Hamas war from NPR's Aya Batrawy. Thank you so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.