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Hospital shelled in Sri Lanka conflict

[CNN, Sunday, 1 February 2009 11:30 No Comment]

964632402-international-fears-civilians-caught-sri-lanka-fighting Artillery shells slammed into a hospital Sunday in the northern Sri Lankan town of Mullaitivu, where civilians — including a growing number of children — are being treated as government forces and Tamil rebels continue to clash.


More than 200 civilians and at least 30 children have been injured in the last three days of fighting, a relief worker told CNN Sunday.


"That is the absolute minimum (number of injured)," the aid worker, who did not want to be identified for fear of jeopardizing the work of relief organizations, said.


On Sunday, Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to "continue with the military offensive until we liberate the remaining area under LTTE (the rebel group) control," according to Sri Lanka‘s state-run news agency.


A "handful" of United Nations staff are working around the clock to save a growing number of children caught in the crossfire, a U.N. spokesman said Saturday.


Children as young as 4 months old were being treated in local hospitals for shrapnel injuries and other "wounds of war," spokesman James Elder told CNN.


"There is just intense fighting in a small area where children and other civilians are," Elder said. "The space (where conflict is taking place) is shrinking and the fighting is augmenting."


Thursday, U.N. aid workers rescued 50 critically injured children and 105 adults, he said.


"We are trying to get as many people out of there as we can," Elder said.


Humanitarian groups say as many as 250,000 unprotected civilians are trapped in the area.


Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised to allow safe passage to trapped civilians and urged the Tamil Tigers to promise the same.


"We have declared a safe zone for civilians, the coordinates of which were announced by the security forces," Rajapaksa said on his government’s Web site. "It is unfortunate that the (Tamil Tiger group) is exploiting this declared safe zone for civilians by placing their heavy artillery within the safe zone and using it as a launching pad to attack security forces and indiscriminately kill civilians."


The fighting has created a "nightmarish" situation for civilians in the conflict zone, Elder said.


An emerging shortage of humanitarian supplies and diminished access to clean water, sanitation, and food are compounding a crisis, he said.

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