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Thursday, 3 August 2006

Hospital suffers wounds of war

Hezbollah rocket destroys entire floor housing eye ward

Dr. Uri Rehany, an ophthalmologist at the hospital in Nahariya, stands amid the rubble of his department after a rocket struck it. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Thursday, August 3, 2006
Page A - 10

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service

Nahariya, Israel -- Dr. Uri Rehany picked his way through the wreckage of his hospital department and shook his head in sorrow.

"This is not a war with a country," he said. "It's a war with a terrorist organization."

A Hezbollah rocket smashed into the eye department on the fourth floor of the surgical wing of the Western Galilee Hospital, near Nahariya in northern Israel on Friday, destroying the entire floor and causing more than $200,000 worth of damage.

Rehany, the 59-year-old director of the eye department, was first on the scene.

"We heard an enormous explosion," he said. "We knew it hit the building somewhere. We waited for a few minutes to be sure the building was stable enough, then we started to climb one floor after the other to see where it hit. Unfortunately, it was my department."

A gaping hole that was once a window shows where the missile sent shards of shrapnel and explosives tearing through the ward. Rehany said the ruined equipment included sensitive ocular ultrasound and topography equipment worth more than $120,000.

"They destroyed eight rooms, about 20 beds, but it's not just the beds. It's all the systems -- the oxygen, the vacuum -- in the walls. It's not like the normal building of a house. There are many special facilities incorporated in the walls and the ceiling," he said.

The hospital's recently completed surgical wing was built to withstand attack. The rocket lodged in the reinforced floor of the surgery ward after traveling through the eye department, but apparently did no structural damage to the rest of the building. The security windows blew out and landed without splintering on the ground far below, as they had been designed to do.

The Hezbollah attack on the hospital, only 6 miles from the Lebanon border, was expected. On the first night of the war, the patients were moved underground into bomb-proof emergency facilities specially constructed for the purpose. No patients or hospital personnel were injured in Friday's attack.

Among the 400 patients in the underground rooms were two of Rehany's most recent transplant recipients. A few days before the rocket hit the hospital, he transplanted the corneas of a child killed by another Hezbollah rocket into two patients -- one Jewish, one Muslim.

Rehany, a corneal transplant surgeon who was born in Baghdad, trained at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

"Before the year 2000, when Israel was still in (southern) Lebanon, about one-third of my patients in this department were Lebanese," he said. "They don't have any modern medicine in the area from the border up to Beirut. They relied on us. They had no facilities for eye surgery, which requires really modern medical care.

"When we left and Hezbollah took over, everything was destroyed," he said.

Dozens of rockets have landed near the hospital in the three weeks since warfare began, but Friday's was the first to hit the building.

"They target civilians -- hospitals, schools, whatever they can," Rehany said. "We are so sorry when we hear that something happened to a civilian by mistake, but they specifically aim at civilian targets. They're not even ashamed of it. They are doing it every single day.

"I hope that the end of this war will see a new beginning and an open border which will benefit all of us," he said.

Rubble in a hospital room at the Opthamology Department at Nahariya Hospital after it was hit by a rocket. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

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