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At Main Gaza Hospital, a Scene of Chaotic Desperation

A Palestinian girl injured in the Israeli assault is carried to Shifa Hospital, which as been overwhelmed by the number of dead and injured.
A Palestinian girl injured in the Israeli assault is carried to Shifa Hospital, which as been overwhelmed by the number of dead and injured. (By Abid Katib -- Getty Images)

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By Sudarsan Raghavan and Reyham Abdel Kareem
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

JERUSALEM, Jan. 5 -- Mohammed Alwan applied pressure to the wounds of the young man in a corridor of Gaza City's Shifa Hospital on Monday. Blood flowing from his body turned the surgeon's gloved hands crimson.

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"Khalas," a voice said, Arabic for "It's over."

The doctor refused to give up. He pumped the man's chest, hoping to resuscitate him. A few minutes later, the man died.

"What can I say?" he said in a fatigued voice. "I have seen this scene many times. I've been here four days straight and I've yet to go home."

As Israeli tanks and infantry push deeper into Gaza, an already dire humanitarian situation has worsened. The Israeli government has imposed what Palestinians call a siege on the coastal strip -- restricting deliveries of food, medicine and other staples -- since Hamas took Gaza by force from the rival Fatah party in June 2007. On Monday, Israel's military strategy of dividing the strip in two further hampered Gazans ability to reach hospitals and relief efforts.

The air assaults and ground clashes have paralyzed much of what makes the strip of 1.5 million people work -- hospitals, water and power systems, markets and roads.

About 550 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,500 have been reported wounded in the 10-day offensive; Palestinian health officials estimate that many of them -- between 24 and 30 percent -- are women and children. Most are at Shifa, Gaza's largest hospital.

Doctors there are working day and night on floors soaked with blood to help the rapidly mounting numbers of wounded. In the halls and corridors, screams and uncontrolled sobbing, along with the sounds of bombs and mortars, punctuate conversations.

"The numbers of killed and wounded are rising. Every minute we have a bombardment," said Hassan Khalaf, the director of Shifa Hospital. "The number of cases is overwhelming us. No hospital in the world can handle this."

It's become too dangerous for his staff to retrieve victims. Eleven members of his medical staff have been killed since the offensive began. "They were in ambulances," Khalaf said.

For the past three days, there has been no electricity. The hospital's emergency generators have been working around the clock. Even before then, when electricity was sporadic, the generators were working 16-hour-days. The hospital, he said, has only two days of fuel left.

"Electricity and communications are down over much of the strip both on account of lack of fuel and damage to critical infrastructure," said Maxwell Gaylard, the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories. "Over a million people are currently without power, and over a quarter million without running water, some for up to six days."


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