Waiting to transport sick, drivers at Gaza crossing come under attack

Four taxi drivers injured as mortars slam into Erez terminal. ‘This is an organization that cares about the Palestinians?’ Arab-Israeli official angrily asks of Hamas

A man injured by a mortar shell is rushed to the emergency room after arriving at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon on August 24, 2014. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)
A man injured by a mortar shell is rushed to the emergency room after arriving at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon on August 24, 2014. (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

Four Israelis were injured Sunday, two of them seriously, when a large rocket and mortar barrage hit the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The victims were Israeli-Arab taxi drivers, who were at the crossing to pick up wounded Gazans and bring them into Israel for medical treatment. The wounded were evacuated to Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital.

An outraged Israeli-Arab Erez crossing official, who spoke to Army Radio from a secured area at the crossing during a subsequent rocket attack, lambasted Hamas for not caring about the well-being of the Palestinians in Gaza.

“This is an organization that cares about the [Palestinian] people? They’re shooting at the Palestinian terminal,” said the staffer. He stressed that, despite the rocket barrages, the crossing had not closed for emergency medical cases, and that two Gaza females were evacuated “20 minutes ago” via the crossing for life-saving surgery in Israel, and that other taxi-drivers were on hand, “as always,” to transport emergency patients.

Some 50 people were scheduled to use the Erez crossing Sunday, but Kamil Abu Rokan, the Director of the Crossings Point Authority of the Defense Ministry, and General Yoav Mordehai, the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), closed the crossing to all traffic except for life-saving cases after the barrage, the Defense Ministry said.

Hussein Abu-Einam, an eyewitness on the scene, told Army Radio: “The [drivers] sat in a shed and waited for the passengers and their relatives who were leaving Gaza for Israeli hospitals Ichilov and Tel Hashomer. Then seven shells fell — just one after the other. We didn’t have time to flee; it was a matter of a second.”

Eli Bean, head of Magen David Adom, said the paramedics who were dispatched to the crossing were forced to treat the victims under fire.

“During treatment, we were forced to deal with a number of sirens and mortar explosions fired at us. The mortar shells fell very close to those who were injured,” he said.

Up to 11 mortar and rocket rounds landed near the crossing, the army said.

Conflicting media reports indicated three or five people were injured in the incident, and reported that in addition to the seriously injured, one person is in moderate condition.

The IDF said it retaliated against a hidden launch site in the northern Gaza Strip, from which the concentrated barrage was launched.

Last week, a temporary ceasefire ended when Palestinian terror groups in Gaza renewed rocket launches at Israel hours before the declared lull in fighting was due to expire. Exchanges of fire have continued unabated since, with near continuous rocket barrages emanating from Gaza and Israel launching airstrikes on Hamas targets across the coastal enclave.

Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman of the southern Kibbutz Nahal Oz was killed by shrapnel on Friday, after a mortar shell exploded outside the Tragerman home. The family said they only had a three-second warning from when the siren sounded, and didn’t have enough time to enter the fortified room.

Israel has said that Hamas is using civilian structures, including residential buildings, medical centers, and schools, as rocket storage and launching sites.

More than 570 missiles have been launched from Gaza into Israeli territory since Hamas broke the latest ceasefire on August 19, five days ago, the Foreign Ministry said.

Many of these have been launched from “various civilian facilities exploited by Hamas terrorists,” the ministry said in a press release.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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