“No child should have to die alone,” a charity said in response to a widely shared TV report that has sent shockwaves on social media.
As residents used the fragile truce to find aid, search for loved ones under the rubble, and head home to survey the destruction, a particularly disturbing scene emerged.
Seen in a video that moves through the abandoned and disarrayed hallways of the pediatric intensive care unit at Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital in northern Gaza were several babies whose unattended bodies lay on separate hospital beds. A blurred version of the video was shared widely on social media this week, a grim and graphic contrast to other scenes of families reunited as hostages and prisoners were freed.
In a piece he reported, Mohammed Baalousha, a journalist with the Emirati TV channel Al-Mashhad, said he found the decomposing infants when he entered the pediatric ICU in the health facility in Gaza City. The hospital’s staff and critically ill patients were forced to evacuate in early November as the Israeli military focused its ground assault on the city, with hospitals under fire.
NBC News obtained raw footage from the channel and has reviewed its contents.
“You will see now horrific scenes of this hospital,” Baalousha narrates in the unedited footage, after passing through the corridor marked with a sign reading “Intensive Care Unit” in Arabic.
‘We had to leave patients on the beds’
Filmed about two weeks after the hospital was evacuated, the footage appears to show at least three of the five dead infants, with their bodies putrefying, in close proximity to catheters and ventilators.
One baby is seen decomposing while lying alone, appearing to still be connected to an oximeter with a green oxygen tank nearby, as insects appear to crawl on its chest. A bedsheet is used as a soft pillow, and an empty bottle and a medical glove box are shown closer to the bed’s edge.
NBC News cannot independently confirm the status of the infants in Al-Nasr’s pediatric ICU between the time hospital staff evacuated and the point when the journalist accessed the unit.
Two independent forensic pathologists reviewed the raw footage. They said the advanced stages of decomposition of the dead infants is consistent with the roughly two weeks from the time the infants would have been abandoned to the date the video was shot.
Around Nov. 10, doctors, patients and hospital staff were forced to evacuate Al-Nasr as the Israeli military continued its ground invasion of northern Gaza and issued repeated evacuation calls to the hospital and others in the vicinity. Amid heavy gunfire and shelling, and as Israeli tanks encircled the hospital, staff concluded they could not safely evacuate five babies, several of whom were premature and “placed on oxygen machines,” said Dr. Mustafa Al-Kahlot, director of the hospital.
“Our evacuation from Al-Nasr Hospital was very difficult and under fire,” he told NBC News in a phone call on Wednesday. “Children cannot be carried by hand or evacuated without oxygen equipment.”
An earlier video taken during that evacuation period, which was obtained and verified by NBC News, shows Al-Kahlot in the same hospital room pleading for help from global organizations to evacuate eight patients in the pediatric ICU. One baby is seen being cared for in a bed next to him, with monitors beeping in the background, as he describes bombing and shelling on the hospital. He also confirms the death of a child due to “the lack of oxygen.”
“We were bombed twice. The first was at the hospital gate, and the second was directly on the departments,” he said. “Al-Nasr Children’s Hospital is out of service, except for the intensive care in which I am standing now, and in which eight patients are sleeping. If the electricity is cut off in this department, patients will die.”
“We are trapped in the hospital. Ambulances cannot reach us,” he added.
A Doctors Without Borders (MSF) representative confirmed that while Al-Nasr Children’s hospital is not an MSF-supported facility, the organization did have one nurse “who was there in their own capacity” at the time the hospital was evacuated.
The nurse was sheltering with his family and volunteering at the facility when he said in a Nov. 10 audio recording to the organization that “there was a sniper shooting, making it impossible for anyone to leave or move.”
“Do not prevent us from taking our patients,” he says in the audio recording.
“Five patients remained in the intensive care unit on the oxygen machine,” he said. “We left them. We only took one baby.”
“We had to leave patients on the beds. We could not take any patient with us,” the same nurse said in a separate video taken within this time frame and verified by NBC News.
UNICEF also warned in early November that “children in Gaza are hanging by a thread, particularly in the north,” and that Al-Nasr Hospital had reportedly sustained damage in an attack that impacted lifesaving equipment. The comments were made amid wider concerns about the “near total breakdown and attacks” on health services in Gaza.
Doctors at Al Shifa, one of Gaza’s largest hospitals, which faced intense bombardment and raids by Israeli forces last month, struggled to keep dozens of premature babies alive due to power outages. Most of them were then evacuated to Egypt by the Palestine Red Crescent Society. At the time, Palestinian health officials said eight premature babies died.
But while that saga got the world’s attention, the fate of the babies at nearby Al-Nasr appeared to have been largely unreported until this week.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al Qudra told NBC News that five children had been abandoned in Al-Nasr Hospital as a result of the frenzied forced evacuations and heavy fighting that left hospitals in northern Gaza nonfunctional last month. He blamed the Israeli military for their deaths.
“Some cases were transported by medical teams, but these cases are intensive medical cases under artificial respiration machines and life support, and medical teams cannot evacuate them by hand,” Al Qudra said, referring to the intensive care unit at Al-Nasr Hospital. “There must be health standards for transporting them.”
Both health officials said they notified the International Committee of the Red Cross to help with the patients left behind in the evacuation process but said that the ICRC has been unable to commit to working in such conditions since the beginning of the war.
Concerns mount over video report on social media
When asked about the TV report, a spokesperson for the ICRC said it had received “several requests” from hospitals in northern Gaza for evacuation help but could not engage with them because of the challenging security situation.
“We were not involved in any operations of evacuations, nor did teams commit to doing so,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Footage circulating of deceased newborn babies represents an unspeakable tragedy, an unacceptable reality of how civilians — including babies and children — pay the price in conflict,” the statement added, as concerns were mounting over the video on social media.
Palestinian health officials also said the Israeli military barred any coordination with health ministry-affiliated ambulances to transport vulnerable patients from Al-Nasr.
“There was clear negligence,” Al Kahlot said.
In response to these claims, the IDF said that “it did not operate inside the Al-Nasr hospital,” and that “these allegations are not only false but also a perverse exploitation of innocent lives, used as tools to spread dangerous misinformation.”
“This is more evident when taking into account that the IDF assisted in moving newborns from the pediatric ward of the Shifa hospital to safety, as well as provide Israeli incubators in the process,” the statement added.
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, a human rights organization registered in Geneva, called for an independent international investigation into the deaths of five Palestinian newborns, according to its assessment of the situation.
“Their bodies were discovered in a decomposing state in the Al-Nasr Hospital nursery, in what may amount to a horrifying execution and a crime against humanity,” the statement read.
Even while accountability for the circumstances surrounding the babies’ deaths remains decidedly uncertain, the video has left an indelible mark.
“We are horrified by reports from Al Nasr Children’s hospital of critically ill children who have died after doctors were forced to abandon their care amid Israel’s assault on the hospital,” said Fikr Shalltoot, the Gaza director for Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British-based charity, in a statement to NBC News.
“No child should have to die alone.”