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Page last updated at 21:32 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Long wait at Rafah crossing

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rafah crossing

An Egyptian border guard checks Palestinian ambulances at the Rafah crossing (30/12/2008)
Every vehicle is carefully checked before it can cross the border

At the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, the Egyptian doctors are waiting for the wounded - there is a long string of ambulances lined up outside the arrival hall.

It is a long wait. In four days, barely 50 casualties have been sent across this border - a fraction of the some 1,500 people that have been injured and are now in need of emergency medical care.

When the ambulances from Gaza do finally arrive, they are in a hurry. There is no mistaking the pressure the Palestinian medics are under.

The crews from Gaza look exhausted.

Hamas has been criticised in recent days for not moving its casualties to the border quickly enough. It is rumoured some of the more seriously wounded are Hamas loyalists.

There are families who are fearful their loved ones may be arrested if they cross into Egypt.

But then, moving a critical patient is a precarious business at the best of times.

"They have to be stabilised first," said one Palestinian medic.

"Difficult when you are working without the most basic medical equipment - hugely difficult when you are trying to do the job with bombs falling all around you."

'Best care'

An injured Palestinian man is carried onto an Egyptian ambulance at the Rafah crossing into Gaza (30/12/2008)
Moving seriously injured patients is a precarious task

One by one, the patients are gingerly transferred from one ambulance to another.

There are plenty of civilians among the victims.

On Tuesday, they brought a young boy across, around nine or 10 years of age, his entire face burnt and disfigured by burns and shrapnel.

There were victims who were still unconscious, dark rings around the eyes, the tell tale signs of a fractured skull.

Patients with missing limbs, chest wounds and crude abdominal injuries. The brutal reality of war.

Overseeing the operation is Dr Imad El Dein from the Egyptian Ministry of Health.

"We took 36 yesterday," he said. "Fewer today, but everyone we have received is now getting the best medical care we can offer.

"We have our best paramedics on stand by, 24 hours a day. From here they will go to the nearby hospital in Al Arish, while the most seriously wounded are flown to the specialist trauma units in Cairo."

Meanwhile, some medical supplies have been crossing into Gaza.

There is no easy way to cross the Rafah border

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have sent several hundred tonnes of fluids and essential equipment.

A huge generator donated by Libya was also taken in on Tuesday to help the hospitals continue their work during the blackouts.

But outside the gates is a convoy of "unofficial" aid sent by the charities from across the Islamic world.

It gets longer every day.

The wait is frustrating for some. But there is no easy way to cross the Rafah border. Every shipment is checked and rechecked before it is allowed through.

Tensions grow

Donated aid is loaded onto trucks at the Rafah crossing in Egypt (30/12/2008)
The convoy of unofficial aid is growing every day

In recent days the Egyptians have been stepping up the protection of the border.

On Sunday night one guard was killed as Egyptian security forces clashed with Palestinians who had breached the wall.

President Hosni Mubarak is adamant he is not going to open this border fully until the authority of his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas is restored in Gaza.

The tensions will grow as the Israelis tighten their grip.

As we left Rafah on Tuesday night, Israeli F-16s had returned.

There was a series of thunderous explosions not far from the crossing as once again the air force targeted the smugglers' tunnels extending beneath the wall.

Hamas is encircled, and slowly its crucial supply routes are being closed - one by one.



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