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The Sydney Morning Herald

Stench in the Air: Scant Resources Stretched to Exhaustion

Taghreed El-Khodary

Civilian casualty … Palestinians carry a wounded boy into Shifa Hospital, Gaza City. For 10 days doctors have been battling to keep the hospital running. (Photo: AP/Ashraf Amra)

GAZA CITY - Fida Basal, 20, was not there when the missile struck her uncle's house the day after Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza. But her sister, Hanin, 18, was.

Fida found Hanin at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. One of Hanin's legs, her sister was told, had been amputated. "I want her leg now," Fida screamed at her mother. "God has no mercy. You get me her leg now."

Her uncle lost both legs.

Another woman found only half of the body of her daughter, 17, in the Shifa morgue. "May God exterminate Hamas," she screamed, in a curse rarely heard these days during a conflict in which many Palestinians praise Hamas as resisters. Israel contends that Hamas has purposely endangered civilian lives by fighting in and around populated areas.

The scene on Sunday at the hospital, a singular and grisly reflection of the violence around it, was both harrowing and puzzling. A week ago, after Israel began its air assault, hundreds of Hamas militants were taken to the hospital.

Yet on Sunday the day Israeli troops flooded Gaza and ground battles with Hamas began, there appeared not to be a single one.

The casualties at Shifa on Sunday - 18 dead, hospital officials said, among a reported 30 around Gaza - were women, children and men who had been with children. One surgeon said he had performed five amputations.

"I don't know what kind of weapons Israel is using," said a nurse, Ziad Abd al Jawwad, 41, who had been working 24 hours without a break. "There is so much amputation.

"It's so hard when you do it to women," he said, adding that even the devastating 1967 war was over in six days.

For 10 days doctors have been battling to keep Shifa running. Cleaners constantly mop up blood while Hamas security officers stand guard.

But the scant resources are being stretched to breaking point, and there is a stench in the air.


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Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor who was allowed into Gaza last week to give emergency medical aid, and who has worked in many conflict zones, said the situation was the worst he had seen. The hospital lacked everything, he said - monitors, anaesthesia, surgical equipment, heaters and spare parts. Windows had been blown out by a bombing nearby and like the rest of Gaza, limited fuel supplies were running low.

The Israeli Government says it has allowed 10,000 tonnes of essential humanitarian aid to be delivered to Gaza throughout the week, mainly food and medicine, even as Hamas fired its longer-range rockets into the cities of the Israeli south.

Among the donations were 2000 units of blood from Jordan, five ambulances from Turkey and five transferred on behalf of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society from the West Bank.

Most of those arriving at Shifa appeared to be civilians. The exact reason was not clear. Many ambulance drivers refused to go near the fighting. It also seemed possible that Hamas and Israeli fighters were still battling at some less lethal distance. And it was difficult to know whether fighters were spread out at other hospitals.

But at Shifa most of the men who were wounded or killed seemed to have been hit along with relatives near their homes or on the road.

The first explosion tore through the central Firas Market at 11.30am on Sunday as Mohammed Barbaji approached from nearby Palestine Square. Unable to turn his yellow VW Golf around in traffic, he kept driving towards the hail of shrapnel and the screams of scattering shoppers.

Trapped on Omar Mokhtar Street, which bisects the complex of shops, Barbari felt a second explosion shake his car and shatter its back right window. He saw a man lying in the street with both legs severed. "God protect us," the father of five, 31, recalled thinking.

Medical workers said two Israeli tank shells had struck the market a minute apart, killing five civilians, wounding 40 and damaging 11 shops.

The Israeli Army has repeatedly emphasised that its operation is not aimed at Gaza's residents. But for Gaza's 1.5 million citizens the advance of thousands of troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships means no place in the densely populated 360-square-kilometre enclave is safe.



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