Friday, January 16, 2009
20:48 Mecca time, 17:48 GMT
News Middle East
Gazans count the cost of war
The five-storey al-Quds hospital was hit as hundreds of people sheltered inside
The rubble of the al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was still smouldering early on
Friday as a relative lull in fighting gave Palestinians the opportunity to
assess the devastation caused by the Israeli assault.
The hospital in the densely-populated Tal-Hawa neighbourhood was destroyed by
Israeli tanks a day earlier after hundreds of frightened Gazans had taken
shelter inside as Israeli ground forces pushed into the neighbourhood.
"They shelled the hospital building and it caught fire. We tried to evacuate
the sick people and the injured and the people who were there taking refuge," a
hospital medic, who did not give his name, said.
"Firefighters arrived and put out the fire which burst into flames again. They
put it out again and it came back for a third time."
Palestinian doctors told Al Jazeera that the difficulty in putting out the
blaze was consistent with the use by Israeli forces of white phosphorus, a
chemical substance that reignites on contact with air after being extinguished.
Human rights groups have accused Israel of violating international law by using
the munition in civilian areas.
Sharon Locke, a volunteer aid worker at the al-Quds hospital, said that the
entire hospital had to evacuated.
"It took a while to get any co-ordination form the Israelis to allow the fire
service to come so the fire spreadly hugely in that time," she told Al Jazeera.
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"We had to put everyone in the streets ... still with shelling going on in the
area. It couldn't have been more frightening."
The patients were eventually taken to the already overwhelmed Shifa hospital in
Health workers were sifting through the wreckage of the five-storey building on
Friday, but there was little left for them to salvage.
Israel has repeatedly stated that it only targets Hamas fighters and their
infrastructure, but the attack on the hospital was just one of many that have
destroyed facilities vital to the 1.5 million inhabitants of the impoverished
The headquarters of the UN relief agency, which distributes food aid to
hundreds of thousands of people across the Strip, was hit several times on
Thursday, setting fire to tonnes of medical and food aid supplies and damaging
"It is a huge tragedy for the people who were waiting for the aid to come to
our distribution centres, to our health centres," John Ging, the director of UN
relief operations in Gaza, said.
"But they should be reassured that we are already up and running again, we are
setting up new warehouse because we have to continue to help the people here."
It was the latest attack on a UN facility after a school where hundreds of
Palestinians were taking refuge was hit by an Israeli bombardment last week,
killing more than 40 people, and a Palestinian driver died when his aid convoy
came under fire.
"It is one of the most alarming developments throughout these 21 days that
Israel has either directly or indirect targeted so many of these facilities,"
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said.
"Many people here are calling this a direct violation and blatant disregard of
international law by Israel. There is no doubt, according to international law,
that these facilities are protected."
A fire at the UN headquarters destroyed tonnes of food aid [AFP]
UN officials said that the shells which struck the compound on Thursday
contained white phosphorus.
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros also found apparent evidence of white phosphorus
munitions, which create hundreds of fragments that can burn through flesh to
the bone, when she visited Tal-Hawa in central Gaza.
Remnants of the munition were still burning on the ground aross the
Israel has said the weapons it uses are legal and has not confirmed the use of
A residential building nearby was pockmarked from gunfire and partially
collapsed after being shelled.
"Nobody can imagine what the last two days have been like, 13 of us eating,
drinking and sleeping in the same room," one resident told Al Jazeera.
"We can't even look out the window. When our neighbour's son tried, they
shelled the house," she said.
The Palestinian Statistics Bureau estimates that 20,000 residential buildings
have been damaged in the Israeli bombardment. About 4,000 of those were
believed to have been completely destroyed.
Sixteen health facilities, including al-Quds hospital, have also been damaged
by shelling and fighting since the offensive began on December 27, World Health
Organisation officials say.
"If this continues
it will be a humanitarian catastrophe, especially for the health care system"
World Health Organisation
Tony Laurance, the head of the UN agency's office in Gaza, said such attacks
were a "grave violation of international humanitarian law".
"If this continues it will be a humanitarian catastrophe, especially for the
"Emergency rooms and intensive care wards are already at maximum capacity."
A storage facility for the Palestinian Red Crescent was also destroyed after
being hit by Israeli fire.
The Palestinian Statistics Bureau said that the Palestinian economy had lost at
least $1.4bn due to the bombardment, with each additional day of the war
costing a further $420,000.
More than 1,130 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive to date, more
than half of them women and children.
The destruction of roads, power lines, water and sewage pipes will also make it
difficult for Palestinians to get the Gaza Strip up and running again once the
conflict is over.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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