IDF casualties stream into Soroka hospital

Peres meets with wounded and their families, says he still hopes for peace.

peres with soldier at hospital 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
peres with soldier at hospital 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Soldiers wounded during fighting in the Gaza Strip continued to flow into Beersheba's Soroka Hospital on Monday, albeit in lower numbers and with less extensive wounds than in the first 24 hours of Operation Cast Lead's ground operation, which began Saturday evening. At least seven of the soldiers arrived by medevac helicopter, while another, brought in by military ambulance, was able to walk into the hospital on his own. Their wounds were described as light to moderate, and some were still undergoing various medical procedures Monday evening, including surgery to remove shrapnel. Twenty-seven soldiers with wounds ranging from light to serious were airlifted to Soroka on Sunday, as heavy fighting raged during the initial stages of the ground assault. Several had been discharged by Monday evening. As on Sunday, the scene in and around the sprawling Negev medical complex was filled with military personnel. Soldiers in dress uniforms mingled with others in fatigues and battle dress. Along with civilians, they sat or stood quietly outside various wards. "I'm waiting for my buddy," said one combat soldier, a member of a unit that had yet to be deployed in Gaza. "He was wounded by a mortar on Saturday night and hasn't woken up yet. It's scary, but we're supposed to go in in two days - and I'm ready for it." Others who had already been in the fighting told stories of heavy fire and fierce resistance, but also spoke of a spirit and drive among IDF troops that they said was unassailable. "We came under heavy fire," said a soldier from the Golani infantry brigade's 51st Battalion - a unit with a storied legacy from both the current fighting and 2006's Second Lebanon War. "But nobody is losing their heads out there. Everyone is behaving like a professional." News crews and reporters could be seen throughout the day, darting in and out of the hospital's hallways while trying, often in vain, to get the wounded soldiers to talk. A pack of photographers and cameramen was camped in front of the emergency room, pushing and shoving bystanders whenever a casualty arrived, and rushing in to get their shot even as security personnel tried to stop them. Magen David Adom set up a blood drive in the hospital's foyer as dozens waited to donate. Beds were set up, as were tables for filling out forms, and the line of donors grew throughout the day. "I'll do it if it's for the soldiers," one woman said. "They give their blood for us, the least we can do is a give a little blood to them," remarked a young man standing nearby. Earlier in the day, President Shimon Peres paid a visit to Soroka and toured wards where soldiers were recovering from wounds. He was escorted by the hospital's director-general, Dr. Michael Sherf, who briefed him on its war preparations and on the status of the wounded. Peres used the opportunity to praise the IDF, particularly the Golani Brigade, which has sustained the bulk of the casualties thus far. "Golani is doing amazing work," he told the team of reporters and photographers who were following him. "The [relatively low] number of wounded shows that the IDF planned for this operation well," he continued. "This isn't a simple battle that's been going on for eight days. The results we're seeing show the level of investment that has been put into ensuring that soldiers don't get hurt. I can't think of another example with a higher rate of saving lives than we're seeing here." Peres went on to say that he still held hope for peace in the region, adding that Hamas was solely to blame for the current round of hostilities. "I hope that peace comes in any case," he said. "And I hope that Hamas will start to understand the price of its foolishness. We left Gaza once; we don't intend to take control again."