Bombings Hit Children Hardest

BEIRUT — About 55 percent of all casualties at the Beirut Government University Hospital are children of 15 years of age or less, hospital records show.

“This is worse than during the Lebanese civil war,” Bilal Masri, assistant director of the hospital, one of Beirut’s largest, told IPS Monday.

Not only are most of the patients children, but many of the injured have been brought in serious condition, he said. “Now we have a 30 percent fatality rate here in Beirut. That means that 30 percent of everyone hit by Israeli bombs are dying. It is a catastrophe.”

The fatality rate was high, he said, “because the Israelis are using new kinds of bombs which can enter shelters. They are bombing the bomb shelters which are full of refugees.”

Masri told IPS that he believed so many children were becoming casualties because of the “widespread and indiscriminate nature of the bombings” and because “children are least able to run away when the bombings commence.”

This new 544-bed hospital was forced to open its emergency room six months early due to the current crisis. The hospital has had to handle “scores and scores” of casualties, according to the assistant director.

Masri said he had barely slept in the 13 days since the Israeli bombing of Lebanon began. His hospital, he said, was functioning with only 25 percent staff because “most are now unable to get here because so many roads and bridges are bombed. Those who are here are eating, sleeping and living here 24 hours a day because if they leave they fear they may be unable to return.”

On Sunday, Jan Egeland, the United Nations emergency relief chief, toured the devastated areas of south Beirut. He described what he saw as “horrific” and said the destruction “makes it a violation of humanitarian law.”

Egeland said UN supplies of humanitarian aid would arrive within the next few days, but “we need access,” and “so far Israel is not giving us access.”

Aid is now a matter of life and death. Masri said his hospital would soon begin to run out of medicines and supplies.

“We are concerned about what is to come because we cannot continue at this rate,” he said. “Already we’ve had to go to the Ministry of Health to get extra supplies. If the UN succeeds in opening safe passage from the south, we will be deluged with patients.”

Masri said hospitals in Sidon and other southern cities are overwhelmed with patients, who are being treated in the corridors and lobbies.

According to Masri many of the injured there are suffering from the impact of incendiary white phosphorous. The Lebanese ministry of interior has officially said that the Israeli military has used this weapon.

“We don’t know why we aren’t getting help from the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Masri said. “The Lebanese Red Cross is helping us the best they can, but no foreign agencies are helping us. Why not?”

As the IPS correspondent was speaking with the assistant director, an enraged man was led out by several security guards. His wounded son had just been discharged.

“I want my son to stay here because we have no place to go,” the man was shouting. “Our home has been flattened. If we leave here we must go to a refugee camp in a school, or sleep on the dirt in a park. I demand you allow us to stay here.”

People are furious about the high number of casualties among children.. Mariam Mattar, a 50-year-old mother sitting on a mattress in a park in central Beirut along with hundreds of other refugees from southern Beirut said no home there was safe.

“We left our house because they are bombing everything in the civilian neighbourhoods,” she told IPS. “They are killing all our children. What human would ever do this kind of thing.”

They had moved to central Beirut because it was safer. But living out in the open has meant another kind of hell. “We are without our shoes even. We are living in the dirt. Would Israel allow her children to live like this,” she asked, pointing at her bare feet.

She pulled a little boy towards her and said, “What have these children done? The other children who didn’t escape are rotting under the destroyed buildings as we speak.”

Israeli war planes roared above as several refugees spoke with IPS.

“We are very afraid from all the bombings,” Ramadan, a 12-year-old boy in the park said. “I hope they stop. This is all we want now.”