In Egyptian hospitals, an opaque window on Gaza war

Denied access to Gaza, a reporter draws on firsthand accounts from the Palestinian wounded taken to Egypt.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

Few of the medics are able to sleep at the al-Arish Public Hospital 30 miles from the Rafah border crossing into the besieged Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday evening, doctors and nurses huddled around a 14-inch television broadcasting news of the war between Hamas and Israel. As soon as they hear more sirens approaching the hospital, they scatter to treat the injured. So far the conflict has killed at least 1,067 and wounded more than 5,000 Palestinians. Many of the worst cases are taken here to al-Arish or to Cairo for treatment.

"We are growing accustomed to seeing images of the wounded on television and the following day seeing them in reality here in the hospital," says Ahmad Zaafan, one of the two psychiatrists working with the rescue team in al-Arish hospital.

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He's just finished working with a 4-year-old Gazan girl. "Her two sisters were killed in front of her. She has wounds in different parts of her body and is half paralyzed now."

Dr. Zaafan says that many of the wounded adults arrive "with a defense mechanism. They tell us things like 'we are good,' 'our kids died, but we will give birth to others.' "

The stories told inside this hospital and others in Egypt provide some of the few first-hand accounts available of the fighting.

"A child today told us that there was a raid on his house. Thirty people died and he spent three days there ... until rescue teams could reach him in Gaza," says Ayman al-Hady, head of the medical emergency team in al-Arish Hospital.

In Cairo on Tuesday, Maher Abdul Aziz says that he and his brother were injured inside the al-Bereij refugee camp in the middle of Gaza before the Israeli ground invasion began.

"Our house was completely destroyed and the rest of my brothers and sisters live in the street now," says Mr. Aziz.

He says he witnessed one bomb "explode some 10 meters before it reached the ground .... The [Israeli army] spread a heavy smoke afterwards that causes loss of consciousness ... When the smoke reaches a reinforced concrete wall, it destroys it completely."

Dr. Hady at al-Arish in Rafah says he's had experience working in many traumatic injuries before. But this is different, he says. "This is war. Aggressive war. There are a lot of children, amputations, and gun shots."

Closer to the Gazan border, trucks carrying relief supplies waited Thursday at the Rafah border gate along with anxious aid workers.

Only one truck was allowed in at a time. Some aid workers follow the trucks across the border to make sure that the medical supplies reach the Palestinian side.

On Thursday, a Libyan organization called the International Organization for Peace, Care, and Relief and another team of Greek medics, activists, and journalists arrived at the border but were not allowed in for "security reasons."

All along the Gazan-Egyptian border, Egyptian security trucks and police were out in force. The border crossing at Rafah has been heavily damaged by the Israeli military intent on taking out many of the tunnels underneath the border used to smuggle goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip.

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