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Born Into Battle: Israeli Preemies Arrive as Bombs Fall

Nurses set up an impromptu post-natal ward in the basement of a border hospital when Palestinian Islamist groups in Gaza began shelling Israel.

TEL AVIV — Lined up in rows of incubators, swathed in cotton, nine premature babies wait out the Palestinian rocket barrage in a bomb shelter at Barzilai Medical Center in Israel’s southern town of Ashkelon. None is older than two days.

Along the corridor in another bomb shelter are 16 more newborns. Nurses set up the impromptu post-natal wards in the basement when Palestinian Islamist groups in Gaza began shelling Israel two weeks ago, and the dramatic escalation in attacks since Monday underlined the urgency of the security measures.

On the ground floor the children’s wards stand empty. Beds are pushed against each other in the corner, mattresses are arranged in piles, and a telephone rings in the deserted office. The regular hospital floors are not protected. It is too dangerous to be there.

Dr Shmuel Tangan warned that moving the preemies was not good for them. Jerky movement could cause concussion and the smaller the infant, the greater the risk. One baby weighed 21 ounces, her twin sister 28.

Tangan said they needed more space to avoid cross-infection. As he spoke, another air-raid siren sounded. Nurses and parents crowded into the safe room, waiting for the danger to pass. There was one boom and then another, and another and another, and everyone fell silent in the bomb shelter.

The most important thing, Tangan said, when the all-clear was sounded, is "that we’re in a safe place.”

More than 450 rockets have been fired at Israel in two weeks, many of them at Ashkelon. None has caused any real damage in Ashkelon because Israel’s anti-rocket system, Iron Dome, destroyed them in mid-air. Falling debris from the destroyed rockets, however, can kill if it falls on a person. In the last two days, three metal fragments, one the size of a baseball bat, fell onto hospital grounds.

Worried mothers and fathers peer at their babies, and look up in fear when another air-raid siren wails.

“We’re used to this,” one mother said, “but it’s always frightening.”

Her husband drew his hand across his forehead and said, “It is all written here.”

Another mother pointed to the sky. “It is all decided up there,” she said.

“We are in the hands of God.”