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Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Gaza hospital comes under fire

Medics examine the damage inside a burning building of the Quds hospital
The UN says Israeli shells struck three hospitals on Thursday, including al-Quds

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

Dr Waleed Abu Ramadan sighs down the phone.

The medical director of al-Quds hospital has not wept since he helped evacuate several hundred people from the blazing Palestinian Red Crescent (PRC) compound on Thursday night, but he says: "My heart is crying."

He says he is standing next to the smouldering remains of a pharmacy filled with bandages, medicines and other medical supplies, describing the chaos as intensive care patients and premature babies were wheeled onto the street.

The compound was hit twice during heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants in the Tel al-Hawa district in the west of Gaza City.

Patients in the corridors of al-Quds hospital
Patients were seen struggling to get out of their hospital beds

In the first incident, in the morning, the administrative building next to the hospital was hit and burst into flames. Patients were evacuated "in panic" to the ground floor, the PRC said.

At about 2200 (2000 GMT), a second building housing offices and a lecture theatre was hit. Fire spread to the roof of the hospital itself, the PRC said.

'Utter panic'

The decision was taken to evacuate dozens of patients, together with medical staff and several hundred people from the surrounding area who had taken shelter in the compound.

An AFP photographer on location described scenes of "utter panic" as wounded people tried to struggle from their hospital beds.

"It was complete darkness in the street," says Dr Ramadan. "Our medical staff were pulling beds and running. It was difficult, very scary. There was some shooting. It was cold, very cold," he adds.

We are in the streets, the hospital is not working. How do you think we feel?
Dr Ramadan

"Maybe 15 beds we pulled out - and there were people on foot with terrible injuries," he says.

It was 30 minutes before even the most vulnerable patients, including three premature babies, were picked up in ambulances and transferred to Gaza's Shifa hospital.

"Four patients were in intensive care, connected to the machines - the staff were doing manual ventilation with oxygen bags. The patients would die if they didn't do this," he says.

"The premature babies, we took them with the incubators," he adds.

"It was a risk for everybody to go on the street like this," he says, but none of the patients suffered complications, "thank God".

Staff from the hospital say they do not know exactly what hit the building, but the UN has said Israeli tank shells struck three hospitals, including al-Quds, in Thursday's fighting.

A Palestinian medic holds the remains of an Israeli shell after it hit Gaza City’s al-Quds hospital
A medic holds the remains of an Israeli shell after it hit the al-Quds hospital
A UN compound and a building housing journalists were also hit.

"It was really a disaster, it was scary and frightening," said Dr Ramadan.

"There is a lot of damage, we can't use the hospital at all. I don't know how much time it will take before we can start using it again.

"This is our job. Now we are in the streets, the hospital is not working. How do you think we feel? We are really depressed."

The Israeli military has not yet responded to this particular incident, but it says it seeks to minimise civilian casualties and blames Hamas for using civilians as human shields.

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