Beyond hell: Eyewitness tells of fear and panic in Gaza

THE 13-year-old boy with half his leg blown off had been lying on an old hospital trolley for more than three hours. Ambulance volunteers struggled to stem the flow of blood and give him oxygen through a mask.

A doctor pushed his way towards him through the dozens of wounded in the makeshift hospital in Hannon, Gaza. But instead of administering life-saving treatment, the doctor snatched the mask and screamed at volunteers to keep the boy alive by manual resuscitation for another hour until a surgeon could treat him. The mask was needed for a more severely injured patient.

Ambulance workers carrying the boy from Beit Hanoun, ten miles north of Gaza City, had been driving a few hundred yards at a time, aware of Israeli spy drones and F-16 fighter jets overhead. As the thud of missiles got closer, they reassured the boy he would be safe once they got to hospital.

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Similar scenes of chaos are being played out in hospitals across the Gaza Strip every time a new wave of bombings brings more casualties. Medical staff have tough decisions prioritising who to treat.

The situation, says Ewa Jasiewicz, a British human rights activist accompanying the ambulances as an independent witness, is "beyond hell".

She told The Scotsman that Palestinians were afraid to leave their homes amid the bombardment, with Israeli ground troops drawing closer.

Scores of Israeli tanks are said to have penetrated deep inside Gaza. Troops have, in effect, surrounded Gaza City and cut the Strip in two. When Palestinians do venture out they find food scarce. If available, it may have trebled in price. Most telephone lines and mobile phone masts in Gaza are down, and Israel continues to bar foreign journalists from the Strip, making it difficult to establish exactly what is going on.

More than 500 Palestinians have died and 2,400 have been injured since Israeli bombings started on 26 December. Four Israelis have been killed in Hamas missile attacks and 46 injured.

Israel says it is trying to minimise civilian casualties but that Hamas uses the population as human shields.

Ms Jasiewicz continued: "People are terrified. They are hearing about the Israeli ground forces moving in. We can hear the thud of houses being hit nearby. People feel abandoned. It has happened before, but in dribs and drabs, not like this."

Ms Jasiewicz, 30, from London, who has been living with Palestinian families in Beit Hanoun, said news of the invasion had caused panic.

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"I've seen columns of people leaving with plastic bags stuffed with clothes and belongings. Israeli planes have been dropping leaflets saying, 'Leave your homes, there will be operations going on to deal with terrorist activities'.

"The ambulance I work with has been doing about five journeys every 24 hours and I've seen bodies lying in the rubble. One had all of his insides blown out and half a leg missing. Another person was cut in two. We picked the body parts up from outside what was their home and took them to the hospital."

Jenny Linell, 33, a volunteer independent witness with the International Solidarity Movement, based in Hialijinina in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, 15 miles from Gaza City, described seeing local residents and children scavenging for medical supplies after a pharmacy supply store was bombed. "The pharmacy was 50 metres from where I'm staying and the bombs hit last Sunday, just before 7am," she said. "When we got out, it was quite surreal to see packets of tablets and bandages just sort of floating around and the mad scramble to get hold of them.

"We've visited local hospitals to witness and film what is going on, and one of the hospital directors gave us a list of badly needed supplies – basics like latex gloves, crepe bandages, antibiotics, oxygen masks and syringes.

"In one hospital at Al-Shifra, they are trying to double and treble the number of patients they treat, which means the injured are basically waiting for someone to die to give themselves a chance. There is a trickle of humanitarian aid getting through the Egyptian border, but not enough to avert a humanitarian crisis if air strikes continue."

Aid agencies and health officials warn that Gaza's civilian population – densely packed into the strip of land – faces mounting casualties and a dire humanitarian situation, with no electricity, hospital generators close to collapse and 70 per cent of the population without running water.

Save the Children called for aid to be let in to the stricken area and said 50,000 children were already suffering from chronic malnutrition. An estimated 2,000 families were displaced before the launch of the ground offensive, with charities expecting the number to increase sharply.

"No-one can tell where the next hit will be," said Hamdi Shakoura, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. "All shops except bakeries are closed, and there you will find long lines of people waiting for bread. Electricity is off.

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"We hear some bombardments in the eastern part of Gaza. Now we have heard some helicopter firing. It's very risky, very dangerous to walk. Even at home it's not safe. People have been killed and injured at home or in the mosque. There is a threat to life everywhere."

Analysis: Obama insists he can say nothing – which conveniently avoids angering either side

Ben Lynfield

EVEN as Israelis and Palestinians plunged deeper into conflict, the US president-elect, Barack Obama, remained silent, refusing to budge from his one-president-at-a-time mantra.

Mr Obama takes office on 20 January but has not commented on the Middle East crisis since Israel launched attacks on Gaza nine days ago. His advisers insist that only President George Bush can speak for America until then.

While most prominent US politicians have backed Israel, critics have noted that Mr Obama joined Mr Bush in condemning the killing of civilians in attacks in November in Mumbai, India. They would have liked him to say something about the fate of Palestinian civilians caught in the fighting. The president-elect has also commented on the global economic crisis and his plans to try to pull the US economy out of recession.

Domestic politics and international diplomacy could be factors in Mr Obama's silence. He may hope the crisis will reach a turning point where a new president, untarnished by previous comments, can make a difference with a fresh start. He also knows any statement is fraught with traps.

"If I were Obama, I wouldn't want to talk about it either. Frankly, it's a lot more comfortable to let this one hang on the president," said Edward Walker Jr, who served as US ambassador to Israel from 1997 to 1999.

Pro-Israeli comments by Mr Obama risk upsetting the Arab world, while comments that seem critical of Israel would anger its American supporters before he takes office.

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There is nothing in Mr Obama's campaign statements to suggest a different course from Mr Bush.

"In terms of negotiations with Hamas, it is very hard to negotiate with a group that is not representative of a nation-state, does not recognise your right to exist, has consistently used terror as a weapon, and is deeply influenced by other countries," Mr Obama said in July.

On the broader issue of Middle East peace, Mr Obama has promised to engage in Israeli-Palestinian peace-making from the start but has yet to propose a policy shift.


"It won't be easy. It won't be short."

Ehud Barak, Israeli defence minister

"I have been appalled at the violence first displayed against, and now by Israel – rockets met by bombs and a tank invasion."

Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow

"The Zionist enemy must know his battle in Gaza is a losing one."

Abu Ubaida, Hamas armed wing

"I don't think it does the council any good ... to issue statements that aren't going to be observed. Israel's self-defence is not negotiable."

Alejandro Wolff, US Ambassador to the UN

"The objective is to destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure in the area of operations."

Major Avital Leibovitch, Israeli military spokeswoman

"This is a very dangerous moment."

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister

"Israel (must] end its aggression immediately, without preconditions. (We] call upon the UN to swiftly fulfil their responsibility without delay."

Egyptian presidency

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"We have to get back on to the path that can deliver a stable peace."

Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister


• In pictures: Israeli army pushes into Gaza

• Hamas fights back after Israeli troops slice the Gaza Strip in half

• Peace? No, never – inside the mind of Hamas

• Leader: Israel must withdraw and cease fire

• Burning Issue: Has the West been too weak in holding Israel to account for Gaza attacks?

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