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At Cairo Hospital, Injured Palestinians Increasingly Voice Support for Hamas

Ramadan Khalid arrives at Nasser hospital on Dec. 30 after Israeli missiles struck a mosque where he was praying. He went to Gaza's overwhelmed Shifa Hospital but was transferred.
Ramadan Khalid arrives at Nasser hospital on Dec. 30 after Israeli missiles struck a mosque where he was praying. He went to Gaza's overwhelmed Shifa Hospital but was transferred. (By Amr Nabil -- Associated Press)

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By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CAIRO -- At Nasser hospital here in the Egyptian capital, the sound of Palestinian Arabic spills out from rooms and floats through the corridors of the fourth floor. "God is great, God is great," Ahmed Hussein, 25, said to a weeping Egyptian woman, one of a stream of visitors coming to pay their respects to those injured by Israeli airstrikes.

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"May God make you be victorious," she said. "I cannot stand what is happening to your people."

Neither, apparently, can Hussein, a Palestinian policeman whose right arm was broken when Israeli missiles hit his police academy Dec. 27. Hussein voted for Hamas in the last election but said he never joined their militia. That's about to change.

"I want to go back and fight with Hamas," he said.

A cornerstone of Israel's strategy in Gaza is to crush Hamas's will to fight, especially its determination to fire rockets into southern Israel. But in interviews here with wounded supporters of the Islamist militia, Israel's assaults appear to be breeding more recruits and more popular support for Hamas.

Men who say they have never fought before or were not Hamas loyalists now vow to join the struggle against Israel when they return to Gaza. They include policemen and other professionals who form part of the backbone of Gazan society.

"I supported neither Hamas nor Fatah," said Anwar el-Sahabani, 35, a carpenter with a casts on his right leg and left arm, the result of an airstrike. He was referring to Hamas's rival party. "Today, after all that has happened, I have to support Hamas."

The wounded are among 260 Palestinians, including women and children, who are being treated in Egyptian hospitals. Many expressed guilt for receiving treatment and being safe while their families are trapped in the conflict's epicenter.

Many Egyptians treat them as heroes. For the past two weeks, hundreds of visitors have flowed to the Nasser hospital's fourth floor, bringing bouquets, food and drinks, toys, cellphones and envelopes stuffed with cash. The support is another indicator of the sharp disconnect between many Egyptians and their government, which is wary of Hamas's Islamist ideology and has faced intense criticism for not doing enough to help Palestinians.

Like all the wounded, Hussein listens to the radio for the latest news on Gaza. He knows the Israelis are near Gaza City, close to his family. It makes him more determined.

"That's how the Palestinian people are," he said. "The more we get hit, the more we become persistent."

'We Have No Place'

Two doors down, Ramadan Khalid, 40, nursed a broken arm and leg. Israeli missiles had struck a mosque where he was praying two weeks ago. "It felt like a force was pushing me down to the ground. Then I flew through the air," recalled Khalid, a farmer. Unconscious, he was taken to Gaza's Shifa Hospital, where he was dumped on the floor of the morgue, next to dozens of bloodied corpses. "They thought I was a martyr," he said. "I felt like I had gone mad. I started screaming for help."

CONTINUED     1              >

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