February 13, 2008 / 12:27 PM / 10 years ago

Child victims of Gaza war lie close, but apart

TEL HASHOMER, Israel (Reuters) - Child victims of the same war, the two young boys lie just meters apart in hospital, bruised, bandaged and fighting for their lives.

<p>Six-year-old Yakuub Natil, who was wounded a few weeks ago from debris from an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, lies in hospital near Tel Aviv February 12, 2008. REUTERS/Ammar Awad</p>

One is Israeli, the other Palestinian. They were wounded on opposite sides of a conflict fought out daily between the Jewish state and the Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip.

Osher Twitto, eight, had his leg blown off last week when a rocket attack fired by Palestinian militants slammed into a street near his home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

A few weeks earlier, 6-year-old Yakuub Natil was dancing at an uncle’s wedding in Gaza City when debris from an Israeli air strike crushed his legs and chest.

Now the two boys, both breathing by ventilators, lie in the emergency ward of Israel’s Safra children’s hospital near Tel Aviv. It is not in itself unusual for Israeli hospitals, better equipped than their Palestinian counterparts, to treat patients from the occupied West Bank and even from Gaza, whose borders Israel all but sealed when Hamas seized control there last year.

Many on both sides of the conflict hold up the quiet decency of Jewish and Arab doctors and patients, working and recovering alongside each other in Israeli hospitals, as a model of how the communities could be. But even doctors used to such cooperation have been struck by the poignancy of the two boys’ stories.

“What’s so unusual is that they are pretty much the same age with similar injuries,” said hospital director Gidi Paret.

“It’s the real story of life here.”

“JUST KIDS”

Yet for all the symmetry, people on either side highlight differences. Gazans point out that they have suffered far higher casualties and hardship than Israelis. The Twitto family and other Israelis say Hamas rocket fire is indiscriminately hitting civilian streets while Israeli forces try to hit only fighters.

Israeli air strikes and ground raids into the Gaza Strip in recent months have killed and wounded dozens of Palestinians, many of them guerrilla fighters but also including civilians.

<p>Eight-year-old Osher Twitto, wounded last week when a rocket fired by Palestinian militants slammed into a street in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, is wheeled into a hospital near Tel Aviv February 10, 2008. REUTERS/Alon Ron</p>

Militant rocket fire killed two Israeli civilians last year and has traumatized Sderot and nearby towns. The injury to young Osher -- the name means Happiness -- grabbed front pages and has increased public pressure on the Israeli government to hit back.

Yakuub’s grandmother Amira, her head covered in the manner of Gazan women, whispers soothing Arabic into his ear. Across the ward, a bearded rabbi in a black hat prays over Osher.

Many sick Gazans and their families have been denied entry to Israel for treatment due to the Israeli blockade on the territory that tightened after Hamas seized control in June. Yakuub’s mother is still awaiting approval to visit her son.

It is in unclear who will pay for his treatment, although the hospital is hoping a medical charity will step in.

So far, the proximity of the two boys has not brought much open sign of conciliation between the families.

Nonetheless, Yakuub’s grandmother seems outraged to hear that the boy across the room was hurt by a Palestinian rocket.

“These are little kids. They shouldn’t be targets,” she says, shaking her head and breathing out a deep sigh. “God should strike down the people who fired those rockets.”

But Osher’s parents, weary and drawn after days at their son’s bedside, refuse to talk to reporters or have their son photographed alongside the Palestinian. They have expressed their anger at efforts to draw parallels between the two cases.

“Such a photograph tries to show equality between the two cases and there is no truth in that,” they said in a written statement provided by the hospital. “Palestinians aim to attack our children. They are happy when we are hit.”

Amira Natil, 52, says the story of the two boys illustrates the need for both sides to lay down their weapons.

Of course, she says, her family is angry at suffering they feel is inflicted by Israel, but for now, she is just happy her grandson is getting treatment across the border:

“First they strike us,” she said, before adding with a laugh: “But at least they are putting as back together again.”

Reporting by Rebecca Harrison; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

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