KHAN YOUNIS (AFP) -- When the doctors gently pulled the tiny newborn from her mother's womb in an emergency Caesarian section, the woman had already been dead for an hour.
Twenty-three-year-old Shayma al-Sheikh Qanan was eight months pregnant when an Israeli tank shell hit her home in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir al-Balah, reducing it to rubble.
She was left in critical condition and her husband, a local radio journalist, was also badly wounded.
"Her body was brought in after an Israeli shelling at 3:00 a.m. on Friday," said Doctor Fadi al-Kharti, who was at Deir al-Balah hospital when she was rushed in.
"We tried to revive her but she had died on the way to hospital."
Before paramedics managed to dig her out, she had been stuck under the rubble of her home for an hour.
"Then we noticed movement in her stomach, and estimated she was about 36 weeks pregnant," he says.
Doctors performed an immediate Caesarian section and saved the baby, who was named after her late mother.
For 43-year-old Mirfat Qanan, it was a tragedy to lose her daughter, but she was delighted at becoming a grandmother for the first time.
"God has protected this child for me. My daughter Shayma is dead, but I now have a new daughter," she said.
"She'll call me 'mummy' just like her mother did."
For the time being, the tiny baby was being looked after in the intensive care unit in another hospital in Khan Yunis to ensure her survival.
Just four days old, she was breathing through at an oxygen mask in the hospital's maternity ward.
Joy pierced with grief
Abdel Karim al-Bawab, head doctor at the maternity ward, said staff were keeping a close eye on the baby to monitor her condition.
"The child is in serious condition, and needs to be constantly hooked up to a breathing machine since she was oxygen-deprived between her mother's death and her birth," he told AFP.
"Her vital signs are stable, but she must stay here in this state for at least three more weeks," he said.
Qanan's eyes filled with tears.
"She had really been looking forward to being a mother," she said, her voice cracking.
"What did Shayma do to deserve to die and lie under rubble for an hour without being recovered?
"What did she do to Israel to make it destroy her house on top of her without any warning?" she asked.
"She was just a young wife who had only been married a year."
Relatives said F-16 warplanes had fired two missiles at the house which was located in a densely-populated neighborhood.
Israel began a crushing military operation to stamp out rocket fire and destroy tunnels used by militants to infiltrate southern Israel on July 8.
In the ensuring three weeks, more than 1,050 Palestinians have been killed and over 6,200 wounded.
UN figures show more than three quarters of the victims were civilians, among them more than 230 children and around 120 women.
53 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting in Gaza, meanwhile, while civilians in Israel have died.