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Violence hinders West Bank hospital workers

The hospital is dedicated to caring for Palestinian children.


As the strife in the Middle East deepens, the challenge facing aid workers in the region has become increasingly difficult -- a situation facing "Kinderhilfe Bethlehem".

The organisation runs a baby hospital for Palestinian infants from newborns to six-year-olds. It is a non-profit organisation co-funded by the Germany charity and Switzerland's Caritas International.

For 50 years it has provided medical care through hospital wards, a nursing school, an outpatient department and a day nursery. But its ability to care for children is being hindered by the violent conflict in the area.

The hospital is operating with a skeleton staff and is only able to care for 26 children. Before the most recent Israeli assault, the institution had 200 staff and 82 beds.

"Tragic and dramatic"

In an interview with swissinfo, the hospital's Swiss housekeeper, Martha Troxler, who has worked at the clinic for four years, said the situation was "tragic and dramatic".

"We have shelling and shooting all around," she said. "The water lines are closed and children are suffering with their families.

They are crying and they have a lot of fear of course. The sick and injured can't get treated, they are in the streets and they can't get help. Even dead bodies can't be recovered."

The staff live in the hospital compound. Anyone from outside is not able to reach the medical centre because of a curfew in Bethlehem.

"Nobody is in the streets," Troxler said. "There are only military [people] and tanks on the streets. In this situation no one can reach the hospital, not even maternity clinics."

This means that children and pregnant women must forego care.

Dwindling stores

For the moment though, Troxler says the main crisis they are facing comes from outside of the compound. They have a store of medicine and basic food inside, which can see them through the next couple of weeks.

"For medicine we are not in need," Troxler explained. But she quickly pointed out that the stores only have enough food for two weeks.

"Since the Intifiada started we have suffered more and more, but I have never had a situation like this week."

Despite the violence outside the compound's walls, Troxler says the staff are working hard to keep their spirits up for the children.

"We have a very good atmosphere," she proudly says. "We are tired from work and from the situation, but we're all in the same boat and we help each other and take care of each other."

But even if courage and the will to care are winning through, the hospital cannot continue its humanitarian work if the crisis outside continues unabated.

by Sally Mules and Jonathan Summerton

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