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Egyptian premier tours Gaza's hospital wards

Saturday, 17 November 2012 - 9:15am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Hopes for a ceasefire vanish as Egyptian prime minister tours Gaza's heaving emergency wards.

As the motorcade of the Egyptian prime minister sped through Gaza City on a tour of damage yesterday (Friday) morning, an Israeli air strike hit Jabalia camp just north of the city.

A six-year-old boy was killed and a 22-year-old man injured in the blast. Hisham Kandil's convoy pulled into the entrance of Shifa hospital with his host, Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader, just as two ambulances bearing these latest casualties of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defence arrived.

Kandil, watched closely by his security detail, helped medics pull the body of the young boy on to a stretcher, smearing blood on his shirt, and kissed him lightly on the head.

"Now you see the blood of Palestinians, it's on you," Haniya, the Hamas prime minister said, as he made his first public appearance since Israel's campaign began on Wednesday.

War-weary Palestinians and Israelis had hoped that during his three-hour visit to the Gaza Strip, Kandil would convince Hamas to halt its rocket fire and usher in peace talks.

Israel had offered to suspend its attack for the duration of the Egyptian prime minister's visit, if the militants held back their rockets. But, as far as most Hamas supporters were concerned, the Egyptians were in Gaza to endorse armed resistance. The Israeli army claimed it held fire for the first two hours of Kandil's visit while 50 rockets were launched into southern Israel. The devastating strike on Jabalia camp marked the end of Israel's brief respite.

"Egypt is standing side by side with the Palestinian people," Kandil told a jostling horde of news crews gathered in the emergency unit of Shifa Hospital. He urged Palestinian factions to unite but made no mention of the ceasefire.

"I have seen many people killed, held the body of a six year-old boy. We will do everything we can to prevent his war," he said.

One floor above the media frenzy surrounding the politicians, Dr Luay Elkaldi was struggling to manage the hospital's emergency unit. The director of the Shifa's emergency operation, he had not slept since the Israeli offensive began 72 hours ago. "We're seeing lots and lots of injured children. When a building is hit in an air strike, its windows shatter. It's the flying glass that causes most of the damage, and the shrapnel," Dr Elkaldi said.

His unit and hospitals across Gaza are functioning at maximum capacity. There are only 30 intensive care unit beds available in the whole strip and they are all full. Shifa Hospital has enough fuel left to power the generators - which keep 27 patients on life support - for 48 hours."

We have an emergency plan in place, we will evacuate the most urgent cases to Egypt for treatment," Dr Elkaldi said, adding, "There are already ambulances waiting on the Egyptian side of Rafah crossing."

Burying the dead, of which there are now more than 20, poses yet another problem. According to Islamic law, bodies must be buried within 24 hours and Gaza's graveyards run along the Israeli border. "Even burying people is dangerous," Dr Elkaldi said.

Shortly after Kandil had left the hospital for the Rafah border, a second Egyptian delegation arrived led by Dr Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the secretary general of the Arab Medical Union and unsuccessful Islamist candidate in the recent presidential elections. He met Mohammed Al Shorfa, a 36 year-old father of five who was caught in an Israeli strike while helping to carry an injured neighbour to an ambulance on Wednesday. Shrapnel hit his stomach, exposing his intestines.

"I feel supported by the Egyptians coming here. I hope they will help to reach a ceasefire. Inshallah the Egyptians will bring peace," Al Shorfa said with a faint smile.

After visiting the wounded in Shifa's crowded wards, Dr Aboul Fotouh spoke to worshippers at the Shifa mosque during Friday prayers. His words rang from the minaret through the hospital. "The Arab nations should support you seriously not just with words. Words do not bring independence and peace. The Zionists must face the resistance."


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