CAIRO, Egypt, Jan. 1, 2009 — -- As hospitals in Gaza struggle to cope with casualties from the Israeli-Hamas conflict, a lucky few have been able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing that borders Egypt.
At least 55 of the critical cases, those who need emergency medical care, have been admitted to hospitals in Egypt, according to Egyptian health officials. While Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is standing firm about not opening the border, he is allowing some of the injured to cross for treatment and allowing humanitarian aid to enter Gaza through Egypt.
Once the casualties clear the border, their first stop is at the hospital in the nearby town of El-Arish. It's a relatively small hospital with basic medical equipment. The injured receive general medical attention and are then transferred to hospitals with more sophisticated medical equipment in the capital of Cairo, which is about a four-hour drive from the border.
Some of them are being treated at the Nasser Institute, one of Cairo's main hospitals. Named after Egypt's second president, the popular Gamal Abdel Nasser, the hospital is one of the biggest here, with 950 beds.
Dr. Ismael Nanci, an orthopaedic surgeon, said the hospital has received 27 patients, all of them between the ages of 20 and 35. Two of them are women.
"Most of them are multiple fractures, especially in the lower limbs, compound fractures. Some of them have piece of shrapnel in [the] abdomen or chest and one in the neck," Nanci said. "We have three cases in the ICU [intensive care unit]. These are the most difficult cases, from multiple fractures, bad general condition from bleeding."
He said that as soon as the Israeli strikes began on Gaza, "we got ready, we were anticipating the injured. We got word from the president of the hospital to expect them and to begin treating them as quickly as possible."
Ahmed Hussein Ahmed, 25, a police officer, is among the patients on the fourth floor of the Nasser Institute. His police station was one of the first targets hit by the Israeli airstrikes when they began Saturday.
"There were 80 of us," he said. "A jet flew over and dropped a rocket on us. More than half of my colleagues became martyrs."
'It's Really Dire'
"We were outside the police compound. Some of my colleagues were inside and the entire building collapsed on top of them. Some of their bodies are still there now," he later said.
Ahmed suffered multiple fractures, breaking both thigh bones and shoulder. He described the situation in Gaza before he left: "It's really dire. When I was in the Red Crescent hospital in Gaza, the police station next to that hospital was hit and the Interior Ministry was also hit and the windows of the hospital shattered and glass landed on our heads."
His brother later said that when his family found out the police station had been hit, they went to the morgue to look for Ahmed's body. They thought he had died. It was only when they watched their TV that they found out he was alive.
"Ahmed was among the policemen shown on TV," the brother said. "He was on the ground next to some of the dead. That's when they knew he was alive."
Some of the patients were too weak to speak but members of their families were willing to describe what had happened to them.
'Israelis Don't Discriminate'
Student Mohammed Zacky, 21, could barely utter his name but his grandfather said, "He was on his way home walking from school, carrying his school bag when an Israeli plane dropped a bomb near him. It tore his leg apart; he was carrying his leg and screaming. A group of boys walking by heard his screams and they carried him to an ambulance."
Asked whether he believed Hamas held any responsibility for the offensive, he said, "Why Hamas? Hamas isn't doing anything wrong. The Israelis don't discriminate between Hamas or Fatah, they hit everyone. When a rocket falls on a school or a mosque, it targets everyone. … I just hope God resolves this soon."
These sentiments were echoed by lawyer Iyad Al Hourani, 32. Sitting in his hospital bed, he said he believed that the rocket attacks on Israeli towns are justified.
"The person who has occupied your land is wrong, it's only right for us to fight for our homes, our families, our land," he said. "Everyone has this right; when the British entered the U.S., the U.S. fought back. It's the right of the people to fight for their land. Why is there a problem that I am fighting for my land?"
Father Thought Son Had Died
In the room next to him was Osama Rubeen Shisheen, 28. As he struggled to speak, his father said, "The first day when he was hit, psychologically he was OK, the second day the same. But on the third day he was traumatized. When he was at al Quds hospital in Gaza, the planes began dropping rockets around the hospital. What do you think would happen to someone in the hospital hearing all of this? He stopped speaking, eating, drinking, he couldn't recognize his mother or father."
Shisheen works at a factory in Gaza that makes chocolate and biscuits for the "popular brand Showmar," his father said. As Shisheen was leaving work to get breakfast, the airstrikes began and he was surrounded by "bodies, among his colleagues, who all became martyrs."
"When I heard that the area he was working in was hit, I lost my mind," his father said. "I went straight to look for him in Al Shifah hospital. I saw bodies, decapitated bodies all over the place and the doctors were busy with the injured. I asked if my son was there, they told me to go to the morgues."
He then broke down crying. "I thought he was dead, I went home, I couldn't find him," he said. He later found his son in one of Gaza's hospitals.
"I was crying and kissing him when I saw him," he said. "Because of the cases I saw around me, when I was there, one man was saying 10 martyrs just came in, then another five, one house was reduced to rubble, young children … ordinary citizens dead. My son was hearing all of this and was psychologically affected."
While their colleagues and friends have been killed and the casualties keep mounting in Gaza, these patients remain staunch supporters of Hamas, like many Gazans.
They are receiving the attention they need in Egypt and most say they're grateful and consider themselves fortunate, compared to the 2,000 Palestinians seeking treatment in Gaza's overstretched hospitals.