By Tom Aspell, msnbc.com, March 3, 2008
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A 15-year-old Palestinian boy lay dying today in the intensive care unit of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. Both his legs had been amputated above the knees after injuries sustained by what the hospital admission center called "an explosive device."
The boy was connected to a respirator, his heart beat was strong, but there was no brain activity and doctors said he probably wouldn’t live long.
There was no frantic activity to try to save his life because the intensive care unit was already overcrowded and doctors were needed to work on patients with a better chance of survival. All of the beds were occupied by young men, all of them unconscious.
When I asked one of the doctors if the unit was equipped to handle so many casualties and if it was short of any supplies, he said, "We need everything."
Gaza has just experienced a four-day assault launched by Israel to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israeli territory. Early Monday morning a column of Israeli tanks withdrew from positions it occupied last week in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jebalya, two miles inside the Gaza border.
Warplanes and missile firing helicopters hunting for Palestinian leaders spearheaded Israel’s ground attack. More than 117 Palestinians were killed. According to hospitals in Gaza City, at least half of the casualties were civilians, including women and children. Two Israeli soldiers were killed during the attack.
Israeli officers say Palestinian fighters loyal to the militant group Hamas appeared to have improved their battle skills in the past year, making good use of ground cover to launch flanking moves against advancing Israeli armor.
But it’s a one-sided battle against Israeli air power operating live battlefield surveillance from helicopters and pilot-less airplanes equipped with cameras that can see in the dark.
Hamas claims victory despite toll
The latest assault on Gaza was halted amid international condemnation from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the European Union of what was viewed as Israel’s disproportionate use of force to avenge the death of an Israeli civilian killed last week by a rocket fired from Gaza.
Israel insists it reserves the right to launch further attacks to protect its citizens. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a parliamentary committee Monday that more military operations against Gaza were highly likely.
Despite the lopsided casualty toll, Palestinian militants Monday morning claimed victory.
Mohammed al-Zahar, a senior official in Hamas, the militant Palestinian group which controls the Gaza Strip, appeared briefly at a small rally in Gaza City.
"Hamas will rebuild any property damaged by Israeli’s in their attack," he said. "And Hamas will continue to fight."
Zahar is a high-value target for the Israeli military, which has killed dozens of Hamas officials with missiles fired from helicopters during the past year. So his appearance in public, speaking from the back of a pick-up truck and surrounded by masked bodyguards, was short.