By TOPAZ AMOORE
Cairo: Doctors operating the only brain-scanning machine at an Egyptian hospital near Gaza have been almost overwhelmed by the number of Palestinian children arriving with bullet wounds to the head.
On just one day last week, staff at the Al Arish hospital in Sinai were called to perform CAT scans on a nine year old, two 10 year olds and a 14 year old, each of whom had a bullet lodged in their brain after coming under fire during the Israeli ground assault on Gaza.
Israeli officials continued to deny on Saturday that their soldiers had deliberately targeted civilians, blaming Hamas fighters for sheltering in the houses of ordinary Gaza residents and using them as human shields.
But there is no disputing the scale of the suffering in Gaza or its heavy impact on the young.
Hundreds of victims of Israel's three-week campaign in Gaza have been transferred across the Egyptian border at Rafah for urgent treatment. They are seen first at Al Arish, nearly 40 miles from the border.
Among them last week was nine-year-old Anas Haref, who arrived with a bullet in her brain. Dr Ahmad Yahia, head of the trauma team, broke the news to her grandmother that the girl was not expected to live.
"The bullet has damaged a big part of her brain," said Dr Yahia. "It came in, hit the skull wall and then changed direction downwards."
Dr Yahia, a professor of neurosurgery, believes that the bullet was shot from close range. "If it changes course inside the brain it has high velocity and its penetrative force is also high," he said.
"I can't precisely decide whether these children are being shot at as a target, but in some cases the bullet comes from the front of the head and goes towards the back, so I think the gun has been directly pointed at the child."
Dr Ayman Abd Al Hadi, a medical team leader at the hospital, said: "We've had one child with two bullets in the head and nowhere else. We think this shows something."
He praised the medical teams in Gaza for managing to save so many lives despite a shortage of staff, supplies and equipment. "But only a very small percentage of children can survive bullet wounds to the head," he said.
"If we see three children here who have survived bullet wounds to the head, there are probably 97 still in Gaza who have not."
Doctors at the small but well equipped hospital do not attempt to remove the bullets, but perform a full assessment and attempt to stabilise their patients before sending them to hospitals in Cairo, and in some cases abroad, for more complex treatment.
Of those who survive, few will recover fully. Most child victims of such injuries are likely to be paralysed for life.
Other children have other horrific injuries - such as Samer, not yet three years old, who was shot in the back outside her home in Gaza, and had to wait three hours for medical help to reach her.
Her uncle, Hassan Abedrabo, said that Samer was hit by an Israeli bullet that damaged her spinal cord and left her paralysed. Her sisters, aged two and six, were shot dead in the same close-range attack as they tried to escape tanks bombarding their home in Jabaliya, north of Gaza City.
Their mother was hit twice but survived; Abedrabo said that their grandmother, waving a white flag at the front of the terrified family procession, lost an arm to another bullet.
Samer has now been transferred to a Belgian hospital but the Egyptian doctors who treated her in Al Arish believe she will never walk again.
Samer thinks she knows what happened to her.
"The Jewish shot me," she said in Arabic. "And they killed my little sister."Source