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In Gaza, attack on hospital delivers devastation and grief

By Kareem Khadder and Tim Lister, CNN
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
  • Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza is slammed by artillery shells
  • Video of the attack shows hospital staff scrambling to move patients to safety
  • One patient and four visitors, three of them children, were killed, Palestinians say
  • Israeli Defense Forces says Hamas was storing weapons there

(CNN) -- In the violent bedlam that has engulfed Gaza, not even the hospitals are immune from attack.

Such an attack happened Monday afternoon to the Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza, where several artillery shells slammed into buildings there.

Video from the scene shows doctors frantically bringing hospital workers and patients to the relative safety of the ground floor.

One patient and four people visiting the hospital, three of them children, were killed in the strike, according to health workers. At least 30 were injured, they said.

Despite the risks, Eloise Bollack, a freelance French journalist, made her way to the hospital.

The latest reports from Gaza and Israel

"The road to Deir Al-Balah [the neighborhood where the Shuhada al-Aqsa hospital is located] was really dangerous and exposed," she said.

Palestinian women wait to be evacuated from the hospital on Monday.
Palestinian women wait to be evacuated from the hospital on Monday.

"At one point, when we arrived near the hospital ... a bomb fell 50 meters away from us."

Bollack said that she decided to leave because "it was too dangerous to stick around."

But on the way back to Gaza City, her team saw a convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society making its way to Deir al-Balah. She did a U-turn and followed the vehicles.

"All the hospital staff were on the ground floor when we arrived. They were waiting for the ICRC convoy so they can evacuate the patients" to other hospitals.

"We started walking around to the other floors to see the damage. One side of the third floor was bombed several times; we saw a lot of impact hits from tank shells on the walls," she said.

Operating theaters and the maternity ward were among the rooms damaged.

"Some walls and rooms were totally destroyed, covered with dust and debris. Everything was upside down. The shock was so strong that a pillow in one of the rooms was hanging on the fan on the ceiling.

"The tank shells fired not only penetrated through the exterior wall but managed to go through several walls inside the hospital, shows the power of the impact these shells did on the hospital."

The hospital is one of three in Gaza to have been damaged during nearly two weeks of conflict. Last week, the al-Wafa hospital in northern Gaza was hit by an airstrike.

Israel: Hamas was storing weapons there

Israeli officials say that Hamas has deliberately used hospitals and buildings around them to store weapons or build launching sites for their rockets. In the case of the Shuhada al-Aqsa, the Israeli Defense Forces said that their "initial investigation suggests that a cache of anti-tank missiles was stored in the immediate vicinity of the hospital. This cache was successfully targeted by IDF forces."

In a statement, the IDF added: "Civilian casualties are a tragic inevitability of the brutal and systematic exploitation of homes, hospitals and mosques in Gaza. While the IDF takes every possible measure to minimize civilian casualties, Hamas and its deliberate tactic of embedding terrorist activities within the urban environment is ultimately responsible."

For the patients and the medical staff trying to save their lives, the consequence is the same. Hospitals are running out of rooms to cope with admissions and running short of medicine and other essential supplies. Patients lie in corridors.

The United Nations has arranged for truckloads of medical supplies to cross into Gaza from Israel, but some are delayed because of the conflict.

Paramedics pay the ultimate price

Paramedics have been among the casualties as they have raced through Gaza's crowded streets to collect the injured.

On Sunday, one paramedic died and four injured yesterday when their ambulance was hit during Israeli shelling of the Shujaiya neighborhood. The Gaza Health Ministry says 24 ambulances have been destroyed or disabled since the conflict began.

Bollack is based in Ramallah in the West Bank and has long been sympathetic to the Palestinian people. But she says she is committed to nonviolence and is committed to documenting the suffering of civilians. She says Gaza's hospitals are gradually being reduced to ruins.

"You can see around the [Shuhada al-Aqsa] hospital that there is water running in the street because the water tanks were bombed and the water system that feeds the hospital was destroyed by the shells."

But even if the hospitals themselves are unsafe, they continue working, she says.

"They are planning to evacuate the entire hospital because it's too dangerous, but for now, they want to keep the hospital running because it's the only hospital around."

Israel finds Hamas are no longer amateur fighters

Deaths mount in Gaza and Israel as U.S. pushes cease-fire

Caught in the violence, it's the hardest question in Gaza

Mother finds wounded son in hospital where she works

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