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50 die as hospital hit by shelling

Shells hit the only hospital in Sri Lanka's northern war zone yesterday, killing at least 50 people in the second such attack in two days, a doctor said.

Staff at the makeshift facility said they were using brief lulls between explosions to tend to patients but had little to offer beyond gauze and bandages.

It was the third attack this month on the hospital. On Tuesday, shells struck the admissions ward, killing 49. But trapped in the tiny coastal strip as the government presses ahead with its offensive against the rebels, the wounded had little alternative but to converge by the hundreds to seek treatment.

The military has denied firing any heavy weapons in recent weeks, but Human Rights Watch says both sides are using the estimated 50,000 civilians packed into the last rebel-held territory as "cannon fodder."

The Red Cross said one of its workers was killed in shelling yesterday.

The Tamil Tigers are cornered in 5 square kilometers of land. The military said it pressed ahead with its offensive into that strip yesterday, capturing one of the rebels' heavy guns and fending off a suicide attack.

The area around the hospital came under heavy shell attack, Dr V. Shanmugarajah said by telephone - the third time it has come under fire this month and just one day after the last attack. One shell landed in an administrative office of the hospital, while another hit a ward filled with patients already wounded by previous shelling, he said.

Dr Thurairaja Varatharajah, the top health official in the war zone, said the attack killed at least 50 people, including patients, relatives and a health aide, and wounded about 60 others.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied troops were responsible for any shelling, saying the war zone had grown too small for the use of such weapons. He said exploding booby traps set by the rebels could account for reports of shelling.


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