‘Go down to the fridges and you’ll find about 11 kids – all killed’

Gazans had taken advantage of a lull in fighting to venture outside when blasts occurred

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:00

Mohammed El Helw stands beside the blood-spattered plastic hospital bag that contains his father’s body, holding on to the trolley as pandemonium breaks out around him. Less than an hour earlier, at the al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza city, his father Sobhi was on his way to the local kiosk to buy some food for the family when there was a loud explosion on the street outside. Sobhi died at the scene, as did eight children.

“He was the head of the house,” Mohammed says. “He was just going out to buy some things for the family.” Several of the dead man’s grandchildren were playing on swings near where the explosion occurred. “They must all be injured. I don’t know,” says Mohammed helplessly.

As we speak, a young man barges through the crowd and pulls down the zip on the body bag. Seeing the mutilated corpse, the head partially severed, he lets out a scream and slams his fist into a sign on the wall.

Chaotic scene

Around us, in the emergency corridor at Shifa hospital, the scene is chaotic. Within minutes of the explosion at the al- Shati camp yesterday afternoon, the wall of the Shifa hospital outpatients’ clinic was also struck, causing it to collapse and injure a number of passersby on the busy street outside.

The injured from the two incidents poured into the main hospital in a convoy of cars and ambulances at the same time, putting huge pressure on overworked staff. Nurses yelled to clear the way for new trollies bearing the latest in an seemingly endless procession of bloody victims. Friends and relatives jostled their way in, desperately looking for faces they recognise. Mothers wept, watching injured, silent children being rushed between departments. One of the injured was a boy of 15 months, his chest heavily bandaged.

Sitting on a chair amid the chaos, being comforted by family members, Naji El Dini describes how, at the time of the explosion at the al-Shati camp, his nine-year-old son Ahmed was playing on the street with some friends. When Naji ran out to see what had happened, he saw body parts strewn across the street. Ahmed had suffered bad shrapnel injuries to his back, so Naji picked up his son and carried him to the nearest car, he says, pointing to the deep blood stains that run all the way down his shirt.

“My son’s whole body is covered in metal pieces,” he says, visibly stunned. The explosion at al-Shati camp killed eight children and two adults and wounded 40 others, doctors at the hospital said.

Locals blamed the blast on an Israeli air strike, but Israel denied responsibility, saying it was a misfire by a rocket launched by militants. Israel also blamed the blast that shook the outpatient clinic at Shifa hospital on an errant militant missile.

Pools of blood

At the scene of the al-Shati explosion – a public garden not far from the sea – pools of blood lay on the ground beside some children’s clothes.

“I was in the house when I heard this huge sound,” says Mustafa Abu Shafqa (25), who lives nearby.

“I went out on to the street and saw butchery. Around 10 children were killed – their bodies were in pieces.” Mustafa says he carried two of the injured children away; one survived, the other was dead by the time they got to the hospital.

Witnesses say it all happened too fast to know what sort of missile hit, or where it came from. “There is no military, no resistance in that area – only kids,” says Khaled Al Sirki (22), who also helped the injured. “Go down to the fridges [in the morgue] and you’ll find about 11 kids – all killed.”

In an upstairs ward, Mohammed Ayad (20) explains that he was standing across the street when the wall at the outpatient clinic was struck. He tried to make his way across to help the injured, but the dust overwhelmed him. As we speak, he begins to lose consciousness and a doctor comes to his side.

Yesterday’s blasts occurred during a relative lull in the fighting, with the two sides lowering the temperature to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Many Gazans took advantage of the calm to venture outside their homes, filling public spaces and crossing the city to visit relatives’ homes.

Sombre mood

Yet the mood was sombre, far from celebratory. Sitting in a park with five of her children, Ghada Heles feels like she’s going through the motions, playing out the usual Eid family traditions even though there’s “nothing to celebrate”.

Ghada is from Shujaia, an eastern neighbourhood that has been largely razed in the past week, and the family have taken shelter in an unfinished house that they found while wandering the streets.

Normally Ghada would buy clothes and sweets for her children at Eid, but this year there’s none of that; what they have – including a bright red dress one of her daughters proudly shows off – was donated by the local mosque.

“How can we celebrate, with all the blood that has been spilled, the houses destroyed, the people forced out on to the streets?” Around her, scores of children run about, playing and laughing in the shade.

Ghada doesn’t know when she’ll ever get back to her house, or what awaits the family when they return. Neither is she sure where they’ll eat tomorrow. But she’s certain of one thing: she wants a ceasefire. “We can’t live day to day like this,” she says. “We need a solution that gives us the basic needs of humanity.”