US supports evacuation of patients at Gaza hospitals by independent third party

By Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States would like to see an evacuation of patients at Gaza hospitals to get them out of harm's way and will support an independent third party to conduct those evacuations, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a news briefing, Miller said Washington did not want to see any civilians, "certainly not babies in incubators" and other vulnerable populations caught in the crossfire. He added the U.S. was in conversations with humanitarian organizations and third parties on the possible evacuation.

"We want there to be safe evacuation for patients in hospitals so they can get out of harm's way. We would support an independent third party, a respected third party to conduct those evacuations," Miller said.

"We know the government of Israel would support such a step as well... The question is will Hamas allow patients to be evacuated from hospitals or will they continue to use them as human shields?," Miller added.

He said Washington was in conversations with a number of humanitarian organizations about possible patient evacuations but did not say which ones or give further details.

Israel vowed to wipe out Hamas after militants from Gaza burst across the fence around the enclave and rampaged through Israeli towns killing civilians on Oct. 7. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and around 240 were dragged back to Gaza as hostages in the deadliest day of its 75-year history.

Its response, including a total siege and near constant bombardment of the crowded enclave, has killed many thousands of civilians and alarmed countries around the world. Israel says Hamas is to blame for harm to civilians because its fighters hide among them. Hamas denies this.

Israeli forces have surrounded Gaza City's Al Shifa hospital, which they say sits atop an underground headquarters of Hamas militants. The hospital has become a focus of international alarm due to concerns over civilians inside being caught in crossfire.

Hamas, Gaza's ruling Islamist group, denies fighters are present and says 650 patients and 5,000 to 7,000 other civilians are trapped inside the hospital grounds, under constant fire from snipers and drones. It says 40 patients have died in recent days, including three premature babies whose incubators were unable to function without power.

Thirty-six babies are left from the neo-natal ward after three died. Without fuel for generators to power incubators, the babies were being kept as warm as possible, lined up eight to a bed.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)