Page last updated at 19:41 GMT, Sunday, 18 January 2009

Gazans confront shattered lives

Amira al-Girim
Amira al-Girim survived several days alone with a badly broken, bleeding leg after her father, brother and sister were killed

By Hamada Abu Qammar
BBC News, Gaza City

All day, thousands of Gazans have been rushing back to their neighbourhoods to see what is left after Israel's campaign of bombing and shelling.

Gaping holes and fire-blackened cars litter the streets in the areas hit hardest by the fighting.

I have spoken to some people who say they have not even been able to find their way round their bomb-damaged neighbourhoods, never mind find the remains of their homes.

Many simply turned round and returned to the UN-run schools they fled to amid the fighting.

But for some Gazans even attempting to return home is virtually unimaginable.

Amira al-Girim, 15, lies in a hospital bed with her leg in traction.

The floor was covered with blood from my leg

She was found alone, bleeding in a house, about four days after she saw her father killed by an Israeli tank shell in front of her.

Her brother and sister died - she thinks in an air strike - as they ran to get help.

Her remaining family thought she too had died, and had already buried the scraps of flesh they thought were her remains in a box.

Tears run down her face, as she describes in a weak voice punctuated with sobs, waiting stranded after an Israeli tank shell killed her father and his friend.

"I looked outside, I found my father's car crushed, and his legs cut off. The floor was covered with blood from my leg."

By the time she was found - she is not sure if it was three or four days later - she hardly knew her own name. But she remembers details.

"I got a glass of water, I wanted to fill it with water from the tap, but it fell down on the floor, and then there was blood all over the glass so I couldn't use it. I waited a bit and then I drank directly from the tap.

I have faith in God, but who will feed my children?
Fared al-Bayar

She says she wanted to leave, but her father was lying across the door.

"I didn't want to step on him in case I hurt him."

She says she slept in the street for two days, but then found her way into another house.

She had struggled some 500m with a badly broken, bleeding leg, in search of shelter as fighting raged nearby.

ABC producer Sami Ziyara, who found Amira with his colleague Imad, said doctors told him she had only a few hours left to live at the point they found her in Imad's house.

He watched an emotional reunion after the remaining family members were located.

"I can't describe how it was when the mother came to see her daughter. She lost three - her husband, her son and her daughter - when she found Amira, she was almost in a coma," said Mr Ziyara.

"Amira is traumatised. She will need treatment forever. Even if they do everything for her, she will never ever be like she was before," he said.

Palestinians remove a body from the rubble of a building destroyed during Israeli strikes in Gaza City
Bodies are still being recovered from the rubble of buildings

Another family too, have been huddled around a bed in Shifa hospital.

Fared al-Bayar, a father of six, is waiting to find out whether his leg, which is burned to the bone, will have to be amputated.

"I have faith in God, but who will feed my children?" he asks.

During the three weeks of the Israeli operation, he fled first from his home in Shuja'iyeh, east of Gaza City, then to his parents' house south of Gaza City.

As rumours of a ground incursion increased, he moved again, to a relative's house in Gaza City.

But when the shells began landing nearby, he and his family ran for the safest place they could think of - the UN relief agency Unrwa's compound.

"I was hit, with my uncle," he says. Adding that he was inside the compound, about 30m from the main administrative building, at the time.

The incident was controversial. The UN accused the Israeli military of hitting the corner of the compound with "three rounds that emitted phosphorous" - which causes unusual and painful burns and can be illegal under international humanitarian law if used in populated areas.

Israel said it was responding to militant fire from the site, but apologised for the consequences. It maintains all its weapons comply with international law.

"I can't imagine myself returning home to see what happened to my house," says Mr Bayar.

"I left my home and it was OK, but I don't know what happened to it. So far all of my neighbours' homes have been demolished.

"I have no place to go to when I leave the hospital. Maybe we will have to put up a tent."

Additional reporting and writing by Heather Sharp in Jerusalem

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