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OPT: Gaza medics under fire as fighting goes on

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, June 13 (Reuters) - Three hours passed heavily, as if time stopped while Adel waited for news of whether his wounded cousin would receive treatment in time.

The cousin, Ala, was a Gaza militant. He was trapped in a building on Tuesday surrounded by gunmen from a rival faction as clashes raged creating a crisis for Gaza's medical specialists, who accuse fighters of turning their hospitals and ambulances into battlefield assets.

As Adel stood near the building, unable to approach, he repeatedly telephoned the ambulance headquarters asking for a crew to take his injured relative to hospital, he said on Wednesday. The answer he kept getting was not one he wanted to hear:

"We cannot send a vehicle there! They're shooting at our vehicles and the drivers and medics are afraid to go," the doctor in charge repeated many times in response to appeals.

Muawayiah Hassanein, director of Ambulance and Emergency Services in the Palestinian Health Ministry complained that fighters from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's Hamas group and President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah had targeted his crews.

"Gunmen from both sides fired at our vehicles, stopped them at checkpoints and inspected them," Hassanein told Reuters.

He said gunmen, whom he could not identify, hijacked two ambulances on Tuesday: "They returned only one," he added.

Rival factions have frequently accused each other of firing from inside hijacked ambulance. Palestinian health officials have complained to Haniyeh and Abbas about gunbattles inside hospitals that have killed patients and forced visitors and medical staff to run for their lives in recent days.

"Gunmen should keep away from hospitals and medical institutions," Hassanein said.

Three days ago, four Palestinians were killed during a gun fight inside a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where most casualties are taken, has been the scene of many such shootings in the past weeks.

Militants in turn complain about the reluctance of ambulance drivers to heed their calls. On many occasions, they say, they have to take their dead and wounded in private cars to hospital.

"I worked during the Israeli raids and took fire from the Israeli army as well but things were never as bad as these days," one emergency worker said, declining to give his name.

"I have kids to return to every day. I don't want to die in the crossfire," the 37-year-old medic told Reuters.

At least 65 Palestinians have been killed since new fighting between Hamas and Fatah erupted in the coastal enclave on Saturday. Dozens more have been wounded.

As darkness fell on Tuesday, Adel, who did not want his family name used, eventually received a call from a hospital.

"We are sorry, your cousin's body was brought into hospital now," the caller said, forcing tears from Adel's eyes.

"He is dead."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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