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Gaza hospital bears heavy strain

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza City

Yahya in bed
Yahya lost his right leg in an Israeli airstrike near his home

Twenty-year-old Yahya Abu Saif lies in his hospital bed looking wide-eyed, gaunt and scared.

He was lucky to survive an Israeli air strike. But, like so many others in Gaza, his life was transformed in an instant.

He lost his right leg in the explosion. The left side of his body is paralysed.

"I had just left the mosque near my home and was going home after prayers," he says, with a little difficulty.

"They dropped a bomb on the mosque and I was thrown in the air, but I don't remember what happened after that.

"My family told me 15 people were killed and 20 people injured, including me."

Yahya says he used to go to university and wanted to be a teacher one day.

"Now I will have a life of hospitals. I know I will just need medical care forever."

As we left the room, we found Yahya's elder brother outside, wiping away tears.

Doctor's dilemma

Al-Wafa Hospital, to which Yahya has been admitted, is the only one in Gaza which specialises in treating amputees.

Dr Tariq Dardas
We feel shy to tell patients that they can't come here; they have a right to come, but we have no choice
Dr Tariq Dardas
Al-Wafa Hospital

At a time when hundreds more people need its care, the hospital itself was shelled and damaged in the fighting.

"It was a miserable time for us and the patients," says Dr Tariq Dardas.

"From midnight on 16 January until 9am, there was constant shelling. We called the Red Cross and civilian defence to help us leave, but nobody would come to this area under those circumstances.

"All the staff members were scared but, of course, we could not leave our patients.

"Many of them had spinal injuries or were paraplegic. It was so difficult for us to move them all to the other side of the building, but thank God we did. One elderly patient sustained head injuries, but it could have been much worse."

'Big impact'

Dr Dardas shows us parts of the building he says were hit by tank shells.

Damage from outside
Hospitals have been damaged at the same time as many people need care

"Ninety percent of the windows have been broken, some rooms have been totally destroyed. About one-third of our new building has been destroyed. It has had a big impact on what we can do," he says.

"We estimate several hundred people have lost limbs and are in need of rehabilitation here. We feel shy to tell patients that they can't come here; they have a right to come, but we have no choice."

The health system in Gaza is under tremendous strain. Not just because of the thousands of injured following the Israeli offensive, but also because of the physical damage done to medical facilities like Al-Wafa.

There also continue to be the difficulties of bringing supplies into Gaza while the crossings into the territory are tightly controlled.

To ease the pressure, scores of patients were allowed through Gaza's border with Egypt for short-term treatment abroad. But most will soon return.

Al-Wafa Hospital is one of the few places in Gaza which could provide them with specialist psychiatric assistance to come to terms with their new realities.

Right now, Al-Wafa itself is appealing for help.

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