Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Injured children treated in Egypt

Samer Abadrabo
Doctors say Samer Abdrabo may never walk again

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, El-Arish

Some of the worst cases of injured children are being allowed into Egypt through the Rafah crossing for emergency treatment.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, more than 300 children have been killed and around 1400 injured in the current conflict.

They include four-year-old Samar Abed Rabbu- she is said to have been shot in the back by an Israeli soldier.

Her spinal chord has been severed and she will probably never walk again.

"I was hit by a bullet," Samar tells me, clutching her teddy bear.

"The Israeli soldiers shot me while I was on the steps with my little sister."

Samer's uncle, Hassan Abed Rabbu, has accompanied her to El-Arish hospital, close to the Egypt-Gaza border.

Caught in the crossfire?

He says the family home in the town of Jabaliya, south of Gaza City, was being shelled and they were ordered to leave by an Israeli patrol.

According to Hassan, he shouted at the Israelis in Hebrew telling them that there were children in the house.

But as his mother left the house with her three grandchildren, he says the Israelis opened fire from close range, injuring Samar and killing her two sisters.

"One was two years old, her corpse was riddled with bullets," he tells me.

"The older girl was six, her body was severed at the waist by the heavy shooting. Samar was left bleeding on the street for three hours before we could reach her."

When you have a child who has two bullets in his head, how do you explain [this]
Dr Ayman Abdul Hadi

In every room along the corridor there is a story of suffering and grief.

But what particularly disturbs the Egyptian medics is the number of gunshot wounds they are seeing.

Some believe that children are not simply being caught in the crossfire between the advancing Israeli army and the militants returning fire.

"When you have a child who has two bullets in his head, how do you explain to me how these bullets came to his head?" asks team leader on the Palestinian ward, Dr Ayman Abdul Hadi.

"It is not easy to answer because it is not only one child. There are many children."

Entry wounds

Four of the children moved to El-Arish were shot in the head.

I was shown the CT scans of Nour Thabit, aged 10, Anas Haref, 9, Nour Sami Shgier, 10 and 14-year-old, Mohz Yosef.

All arrived on mechanical ventilators and remain in comas at other hospitals in Egypt.

Skull x-ray
Bullets are easy to distinguish from shrapnel wounds

The head of neurosurgery, Dr Ahmed Yahia, says bullets can easily be distinguished from blast wounds.

"You will find this round white shape, you see a very different trauma to those hit by shrapnel in an explosion," he explains.

"If you have a small entry wound this means the bullet is shot from very nearby because it has come out of the gun at high speed."

Dr Yahia illustrates the point by showing me the picture of one boy who has been shot through the front of the head.

There is a small entry wound but a dark shadow around the bullet.

His brain has been badly damaged and he will probably never wake up.

Hamas has adopted tactics that have deliberately endangered the Palestinian population
Mark Regev

Israeli government spokesman

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have raised concerns about civilian casualties in this war, but the facts are hard to verify independently.

The Israeli government insists it is doing all it can to protect the innocent.

"Hamas has adopted tactics that have deliberately endangered the Palestinian population in Gaza," said Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman.

"When you put bombs in schools, when you put rockets in private dwellings, when they fight, they use the civilian population as human shield."

At El-Arish hospital, a psychiatrist comforts 13-year-old, Ahmed Soumani. The shrapnel is embedded in his chest, lungs and kidney. It is hard to console a little boy in so much pain.

The wounds of some of these young patients may well heal but it is the psychological damage, and the hatred born out of this conflict, which will be much harder to treat.

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