A UNITED Nations team has said 291 patients were left at Gaza’s largest hospital after Israeli troops had others evacuate.

Those left included 32 babies in an extremely critical condition, trauma patients with severely infected wounds and others with spinal injuries who are unable to move.

The premature babies have now been evacuated from Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s health ministry has said.

The team was able to tour Shifa Hospital for an hour after about 2,500 displaced people, mobile patients and medical staff left the sprawling compound on Saturday morning, said the World Health Organisation (WHO), which led the mission.

It said 25 medical staff remained along with the patients.

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“Patients and health staff with whom they spoke were terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation,” the agency said, describing Shifa as a death zone.

Another WHO team was heading to Shifa on Sunday to evacuate the babies, according to Mohammed Zaqout, the director of hospitals in Gaza.

A convoy of ambulances, escorted by UN vehicles, was seen by a reporter heading north towards Gaza City. The WHO has said it hopes to the evacuate patients to southern Gaza, where hospitals are also overwhelmed.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as Unrwa, had been forced to put aid operations on hold on Friday during a communications blackout.

Gaza has received only 10% of its required food supplies each day in shipments from Egypt, according to the UN, and the water system shutdown has left most of the population drinking contaminated water.

Israel has long alleged that Hamas maintains a sprawling command post inside and under Shifa. It has portrayed the hospital as a key target in its war to end the militants’ rule in Gaza following their wide-ranging attack into southern Israel six weeks ago, which triggered the war.

Hamas and hospital staff deny the allegations.

Israeli troops who have been based at the hospital and searching its grounds for days say they have found guns and other weapons, and showed reporters the entrance to a tunnel shaft.

The Associated Press (AP) could not independently verify Israel’s findings.

Saturday’s mass departure was portrayed by Israel as voluntary, but the WHO said the military had issued evacuation orders, and some of those who left described it as a forced exodus.

“We left at gunpoint,” Mahmoud Abu Auf told the AP by phone after he and his family left the crowded hospital.

“Tanks and snipers were everywhere inside and outside.”

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He said he saw Israeli troops detain three men.

Elsewhere in northern Gaza, dozens of people were killed in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp when what witnesses described as an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded UN shelter on Saturday.

It caused massive destruction in the camp’s Fakhoura school, said wounded survivors Ahmed Radwan and Yassin Sharif.

“The scenes were horrifying. Corpses of women and children were on the ground. Others were screaming for help,” Radwan said by phone.

AP photographs from a local hospital showed more than 20 bodies wrapped in bloodstained sheets.

The Israeli military, which has repeatedly called on Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, said only that its troops were active in the area “with the aim of hitting terrorists”.

It rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it targets Hamas while trying to minimise civilian harm.

In southern Gaza, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building near the town of Khan Younis on Saturday, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.

More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants; Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.

Gaza’s main power station shut down early in the war and Israel has cut off electricity. That has left local authorities unable to operate water treatment centres, bakeries, hospitals and other critical infrastructure without fuel for generators, which has run low since Israel cut off all imports at the start of the war.

More than two thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled their homes. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, is providing basic services to hundreds of thousands of people sheltering in schools and other facilities.