Grief and pain stalk hospitals in Lebanese city
By Alaa Shahine
TYRE, Lebanon (Reuters) - Mariam Basma was muttering unrecognizable words under her oxygen mask. When the nurse took the mask off, she called for her son.
"Where is he? Can you please ask him to come?" she told the nurse. "His name is Sheikh Saber. He is with me here."
Smoke rises from Kfarjouz village during Israeli air strikes in south Lebanon, July 28, 2006. (REUTERS/Kamel Jaber)
"I'll call him as soon as I can. Don't worry," said the nurse at a hospital in the Lebanese port city of Tyre.
The nurse had no idea where the son was but said Basma, lying in bed with a broken back and two broken thighs, was the only casualty the hospital had received that day from the village of Hanaweih, hit by an Israeli air strike.
"I refused to leave my home," the 61-year-old Basma said, struggling to talk. "I survived the Israeli invasion in 1982 at my house. May God destroy Israel for all this injustice."
It was another bloody day in the south, taking the brunt of Israel's 18-day-old offensive against Hizbollah guerrillas.
Ahmed Mroueh, director of the Jabal Amel hospital, said his hospital had taken in 361 wounded civilians during the war, of whom 19 percent were children and 32 percent women.
"We are receiving fewer people every day now because the roads are risky. There are dozens of dead bodies and wounded people lying on the streets in several villages with no means of transportation," he added, hitting his desk in anger.
Sitting in his office with a Koran nearby, Mroueh checked a list of dwindling medical supplies, including sedatives, antibiotics and blood bags.
"We prepared supplies for a month. But we received more casualties than we expected, so we will run short soon.
"We don't have a food problem. The patients are eating normally and hospital staff are eating once a day, though they can drink as much tea and water as they like," Mroueh said with a bitter smile.
The war, which has cost Lebanon at least 462 lives and Israel 51, has taken its toll on the hospital's staff as well.
It took 11 days for one employee, Ghaith Jomaa, to pull the corpses of his 24-year-old wife, his two daughters and his grandmother from the rubble of their house.
At Tyre's state-run hospital, where dozens of war dead had to be buried in a mass grave, a doctor named Mustafa Jaradeh reported a serious shortage of medicines for chronic diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems.
Looking at the hospital log, he counted one dead woman and 10 wounded civilians, including Mahdi Daheni, a 5-year-old boy, brought in on Friday. That raised to more than 600 the number of casualties received by just one hospital.
Overwhelmed by casualties, Tyre's four hospitals have been evacuating serious cases to the Lebanese capital Beirut.
Oxygen supplies have run out at Najem hospital. "This is a disaster," said Ali Najem, son of the hospital's owner.
Israeli raids on Tyre have turned it into a eerily silent city, with streets empty apart from a few cars speeding towards Beirut. Posters of slain Hizbollah fighters and the guerrilla group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah stare down from walls.
Despite air strikes that have hit several buildings in the city centre, hundreds of refugees still flock into Tyre every day, fleeing fighting in border villages to the east.
Their first stop is the Rest House Hotel, where a forlorn poster announces a July 27 concert for Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram, before heading elsewhere to refuges for the displaced.
"I fled the shelling in Yaroun, but I don't know if my father is dead or alive," said a 37-year-old woman named Fatemah Saleh. "It was like hell."