Several children with cancer and serious blood disorders evacuated from Gaza

An aerial view shows the compound of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Nov.

7.Bashar Taleb / AFP – Getty Images

Nov. 11, 2023, 3:09 AM WAT

By Andrea Mitchell

More than a dozen children with cancer or other serious blood disorders have been safely evacuated from Gaza after weeks of difficult negotiations involving the U.S., Egypt, Israel and Hamas — but more than 30 remain in the war-torn territory, three doctors involved in the effort tell NBC News.

The children, accompanied by parents or companions, were evacuated from the Al-Rantisi Specialized Hospital for Children to hospitals in Egypt and Jordan, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the World Health Organization said Friday.

The development comes as hospitals across northern Gaza on Thursday and Friday came under munitions fire and as Israeli military vehicles drew near. Strikes hit the strip’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, though it is unclear where the projectile originated.

More than 11,000 people, including 4,500 children, have died in Gaza since Israel began retaliating against Hamas, designated a terror group by the U.S. and E.U., after it launched its Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,400 people and saw more than 225 peopletaken hostage.

‘The heart of the war zone’

Al-Rantisi, the last pediatric hospital in north Gaza, closed late Thursday night following repeated warnings from the Israel Defense Forces to evacuate.

The day before, the IDF dropped leaflets saying: “to all those currently staying at Rantisi Hospital: The IDF is informing you that there is Hamas terror activity and infrastructure inside the premises of the hospital and its surroundings which do not enable you to remain in the premises. The hospital is in the heart of the war zone — you must move south of the Gaza river — the crossing south is open. For your safety — do not stay in the premises of the hospital in the coming hours.” The IDF has not provided evidence that Hamas operates from the hospital.

Tanks were seen near Al-Rantisi in videos posted on social media and geolocated by NBC News.

Officials at Al-Rantisi alerted the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an international nonprofit that has been providing medical assistance to the West Bank and Gaza for 30 years, said that the hospital received calls from the IDF warning there would be violence in the area and to evacuate.

Secret rescue mission

The World Health Organization and St. Jude’s had already launched a secret operation to rescue the children, and on Friday made the announcement that some of the children were safe in Egypt. 

Dr. Zeena Salman, a member of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund’s medical advisory board, told NBC news that the hospital received the warning call from the IDF at 7:45 local time Thursday evening. The hospital staff told her they felt trapped and feared getting hit by shelling if they walked out, and several of the remaining children at the hospital could not walk because they were in ICU beds on dialysis, ventilators or chemo.

“The remaining children were pushed out onto the streets Friday morning local time and we don’t know what happened to them,” Steve Sosebee, founder and president of the PCRF, said. He added that some of the children were in wheelchairs and there was no communication because of the lack of cellphone service.