Editor’s Note: The following story includes graphic material. Audience discretion is advised.
The scene inside the Al-Nasr hospital ICU ward is chilling. The tiny bodies of babies, several still attached to wires and tubes that were meant to keep them alive, decomposing in their hospital beds. Milk bottles and spare diapers still next to them on the sheets.
The video inside the hospital was filmed on November 27 by Mohamed Baalousha, a Gaza reporter for UAE-based news outlet Al Mashhad. He shared an unblurred version with CNN, which shows the remains of at least four infants.
Three of them appear to be still connected to hospital machines. The bodies of the babies appear to be darkening and disintegrating from decay, with little more than skeletons left in some of the beds. Flies and maggots are visibly crawling across the skin of one child.
The circumstances around one of the most horrifying videos to emerge from the war in Gaza remain unclear, but after days of piecing together available information, using interviews, published statements and video, a chaotic scene can been painted of hospital staff trying to protect their most vulnerable patients, caught in the middle of a raging battle – waiting for help that never arrived.
Here is what CNN found
CNN geolocated the video to Al-Nasr hospital in northern Gaza. This area has been largely unreachable to journalists in recent weeks due to the intensity of fighting but during the seven-day truce Baalousha says he was able to access the hospital to film what was left there.
From early November, the Al-Nasr and Al-Rantisi children’s hospitals, which form part of the same complex, had become the frontline of fighting between Israeli and Hamas forces.
In public statements and interviews, several medical staff and health officials from Al-Nasr said they had to hurriedly evacuate the hospital on November 10, under the direction of Israeli forces.
Medical staff described having to leave young children behind in the ICU because they had no means to safely move them.
A doctor associated with the hospital, who did not want to be named, told CNN that two of the children – a two-year-old and a nine-month-old baby – had died shortly before the evacuation but that three children were left alive still connected to respirators. One of those left alive was two months old. Several of the infants on the ICU had been suffering from genetic disorders, according to the doctor.
The condition of those left behind alive – both at the time the fighting reached the hospital and when the evacuation took place – remains unclear.
In a video on November 9, the head of Al-Nasr and Al-Rantisi pediatric hospitals, Dr. Mustafa al-Kahlout, said Al-Nasr hospital had been “struck twice” sustaining “a lot of damage.”
Kahlout warned oxygen to the ICU “was cut off” and reported at least one patient had died as a result, with others facing the risk of death.
It’s unclear whether oxygen cylinders, seen next to some of the beds in the video from the hospital, were functioning or whether supplies had run out.
“The situation is really bad, we are surrounded… ambulances cannot reach the hospital, and ambulances that tried to reach Al-Nasr were targeted,” Kahlout said, calling on international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to intervene and save the medical staff and patients who remained in the ICU.
Video shared on social media on November 9, which CNN verified, was filmed from inside Al-Nasr hospital and appears to show the aftermath of the building being hit.
Another from November 10 showed an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tank outside Al-Nasr, indicating the IDF was operating in the area. Another video from the same date showed civilians holding up makeshift white flags attempting to flee the hospital amid gunfire, then being forced to run back inside. It is not possible to tell from the video who is shooting.
Satellite imagery reviewed by CNN from November 11 shows large craters around the hospital complex, indicating the area had been under bombardment, making evacuation difficult.
But, in an audio recording of a conversation between a senior official at Al-Rantisi hospital and an officer from COGAT, which coordinates the Israeli government’s activities in the Palestinian territories and Gaza, it appears Israeli forces instructed hospital patients and staff to evacuate.
In the recording, released by the IDF on November 11, the Israeli officer assures the hospital official that ambulances will be arranged.
The hospital official tells the COGAT officer that ambulances cannot reach the hospital, and the officer replies: “I’ll arrange coordination with the primary aid center. Don’t worry, I’m near the army, it will be okay.”
“Will the ambulances take the patients and the medical staff?” the hospital official asks.
“No problem,” the COGAT officer responds, in the recording.
The hospital official then confirms that the COGAT officer is aware that people will be evacuating both Al-Nasr and Al-Rantisi hospitals, and the COGAT officer says “yes, yes.”
But hospital officials say the ambulances never arrived.
“Many of the patients were carried out by their families, ambulances couldn’t reach the hospital,” Kahlout said in a news conference on November 14, following the evacuation.
Three children were left in the ICU attached to hospital machines but without oxygen, Kahlout said.
In an audio recording from November 10 released by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) a nurse who the organization said was volunteering in a personal capacity, said the hospital had been shelled, hitting multiple floors, water tanks, and electricity and oxygen stations.