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02/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Living In Gaza: Information A Scarce Resource

If you are under 13 years old and protected by a loving family, anything can be fun, even taking refuge from Israeli bombardment in the hell that is the Gaza Strip.

Reem al-Naraib, who is six months' pregnant, and her husband Sabah fled with their three children, aged 12, eight and six, from their home near Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, two-and-a-half miles from the Israeli border, where they had been directly in the line of fire.

Yesterday, they were in a three-room flat on the fourth floor of a tower block near the centre of Gaza City, without water, electricity, light, or any means of communication except a crackling landline. When The Independent spoke to Mrs al-Naraib, there was constant noise in the background - not made by bombs but by excited children.

"My children, thank God, are not so afraid," she said. "When we were living at home, the sound of bombing was a regular thing for us, so they are used to it.

"They run around chasing each other, and they jump on the furniture. Then my husband tells them stories - good stories, not frightening stories about Jews, children's stories.

"We sleep in the mornings, and we stay awake at night because the Israelis double their bombing targets at night, and we use the telephone for news of friends and neighbours. And that's our life now.

"We hear the bombing, we hear the ambulances, we look out of the window and we see smoke, but we don't know where it is. We want to hear about the news, but there is no news. Even the neighbours have no news. Each has closed his door. It's a war - really a war. We don't know what is happening."

Gaza has been used to shortages since the start of the Israeli blockade, but from the sporadic accounts coming out of the Strip since Israeli tanks moved in after nightfall on Saturday their existence is now a scrabble to find food and basic necessities, amid constant anxiety.

Adding to the physical hardship, there is the stress of knowing so little about what is going on.

In Tel Aviv, volunteers from Physicians for Human Rights were on the telephone all day, trying to learn what they could about conditions in the hospitals. "Many of the phone lines are down, and those that are working are crackly," said their director, Hadas Ziv.

"Everyone is indoors. Each can tell you what is happening in their immediate vicinity, but only that." Yesterday, Mrs al-Nuraib went looking for a loaf of bread in the market, but there was none. Fortunately, there was rice in the cupboard, which she heated over a gas cooker. But the gas is running low. The family have not seen a television that works since Friday, and have no radio. "All Gaza City is without electricity," said Fikr Shalltoot, programme co-ordinator for the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.

"That means there is no water. Inside my house this is the fourth day without water. We can buy a little bit of water to wash ourselves, but we can't have a shower."

But if conditions are bad for the Gazans trying to live in what passes for normality, they are worse for the injured and bereaved in the understaffed and overcrowded hospitals.

"There were 2,050 hospital beds in Gaza before the air strikes, and the number of injured already exceeds that," Mr Shalltoot said. "The injured coming in have been hit by F15 bombs or missiles, not bullets, so you can imagine the injuries they have. There are thousands of people moving inside the hospitals - medical teams, and people coming to find out about missing relatives, coming in off the street, and some of the injured are lying on the floor. Some are women or children. Some have lost limbs.

"There are not enough stretchers," he said. "The hospitals are short of sheets, blankets, and surgical gowns. There is no gauze, so they are using cotton, which sticks to wounds. They can't sterilise clothes for the operating theatre. They are using the wrong- size syringes."

Mr Shalltoot added: "I have seen remains lying outside the mortuaries, because the mortuaries can't cope with the number who have been killed. Neighbours come directly to the mortuaries to find out if the missing have been killed. If they don't find them at the mortuaries they look in the beds and the corridors of the hospitals. If the remains are recognised by friends or relatives, they are taken away."

Dr Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor working at Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital, said: "We are doing surgery around the clock. The hospital is completely overcrowded and we're seeing injuries that you don't want to see in this world. A child just came in and we had to amputate both arms and legs. It's like hell here now."

Read more on the Independent.

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