Thursday, February 8, 2007

ASHKELON, Israel — The wounded in the bitter Palestinian struggle between Hamas and Fatah fall in the dusty streets of Gaza, but it is to an Israeli hospital in this nearby coastal city that many are brought for treatment.

Officials at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center say there is no political calculation behind the decision to take in the Palestinian wounded, who were arriving at a rate of several a day before the factions struck a deal in Saudi Arabia yesterday.

But when the father of a wounded security officer from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction tells a reporter that he wants “to say thank you to all of the people of Israel,” it seems that the center’s work is changing at least some hearts and minds.

The expression of warmth toward Israel came from Abdel Hamin Odeh, father of Adel Odeh, a Fatah fighter who was brought to Barzilai suffering a critical leg wound. By this week, he was shuffling gingerly though the halls with the help of a walker.

Mr. Odeh had first been taken to the Palestinian Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City, said the gunman’s father, Abdel Hamin Odeh. “They took care of him, but not very well.”

Barzilai’s chief medical director, Ron Lobel, says the Israeli hospital has treated 124 patients from the Gaza Strip in the past year.

“We don’t know if it’s Hamas or Fatah, we don’t know if they are civilian or armed forces, we just know they are injured,” said Dr. Lobel. “It’s something normal, between hospitals.”

Sitting alongside the neighboring bed, Rafat Shelieh gestured toward his younger brother, Abdallah, who was waiting to schedule his third operation since arriving at Barzilai on Feb. 1.

“He would have lost a leg,” Rafat Shelieh said. “The treatment is a thousand times better here than in Gaza.”

Abdallah Shelieh, a 25-year-old policeman from a Fatah family, lifted his hospital gown and pointed to the bullet wounds caused by Hamas gunmen who assaulted his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp two weeks ago.

There was one wound on the right side of his rib cage, another in the right shoulder, and two in the right leg, one high and one low.

“I was defending my house,” said Abdallah Shelieh, describing a daylong battle that left him wounded and bleeding inside the house for nearly seven hours. “I fired on them for about 15 minutes.”

Although the hospital insists it does not discriminate between factions, most of the wounded Palestinians it receives have come from Fatah, in part because border background checks by the Israeli secret service seem to have shut out Hamas members.

Fatah officers such as Abdallah Shelieh, meanwhile, have been avoiding Gaza City’s main facility, Shifah Hospital, for fear of Hamas security forces who have set up military positions on the roof and in their own wing of the hospital.

Medical services in Gaza are further hobbled by a lack of supplies — including blood — and surgical knowledge to handle the wounded, said a Shifah hospital official.

Despite hopes that yesterday’s agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, will put an end to the flow of wounded Palestinians, Adel Odeh held out little hope that the deal would last.

“There won’t be peace between Hamas and Fatah,” he said. “I know both of them, and neither of them likes the other.”

The recent bloodshed will only intensify those grudges, said Rafat Shelieh, who denigrated Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and disparaged the Islamic militants as not sophisticated enough to run the government.

With his home destroyed and a brother laid up in the hospital, he said he also was not optimistic about the chances for reconciliation.

“My heart is gone. They should be afraid of me. Not the other way around,” he said. “Everything in the house is gone. I only have the jacket and clothes on my back. Will I forget that?”

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