updated 2/2/2009 6:27:13 AM ET 2009-02-02T11:27:13

Artillery shells slammed into an overcrowded hospital for the second day in Sri Lanka's northern war zone, bringing the death toll to at least 11 people, officials said Monday as the army claimed it found an abandoned luxury hide-out of the elusive rebel leader.

The attacks on the hospital intensified concern for the fate of some 250,000 civilians trapped in the shrinking war zone where the Tamil Tigers have been boxed in. The Sri Lankan army believes it is on the verge of destroying the rebels and ending one of the longest running civil wars in the world.

In the chaos of war, where claims and counterclaims have become impossible to verify independently, the Tamil Tigers said they killed 150 soldiers and injured more than 300 since Sunday. The army denied it lost any men.

"There is no truth to that. There were small confrontations, but we didn't suffer any casualties," military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara told The Associated Press.

The fighting is taking place in Puthukkudiyiruppu area, where three artillery barrages slammed into the pediatrics and women's wards of the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital on Sunday, the Red Cross said.

The shells, which also hit a kitchen and a chapel, killed nine patients Sunday and wounded 20, Red Cross spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne said Monday.

Kandasamy Tharmakulasingham, a local health official, confirmed the attacks, and said more shells hit the hospital Monday morning, killing two more people and wounding six others.

Sarasi and Tharmakulasingham couldn't say who fired the shells.

But Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah, the top government health official in the area, said two of the attacks appeared to have come from the army.

He said the shelling caused extensive damage to the overcrowded hospital, one of the last functioning health institutions inside rebel-held territory.

Pediatric ward struck
The United Nations confirmed the hospital was struck Sunday by artillery shells throughout the day.

"It seems to have struck the pediatric ward, a 30-bed ward filled to overflowing," U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss said. He did not cast blame on either side.

Nanayakkara said the army was not responsible for the attacks and accused the rebels, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, of "desperately" firing artillery shells at random.

He said troops discovered Sunday an underground three-room apartment in Vishwamadu village, fitted with a luxury bathroom, high quality furnishings, a generator and electrical appliances.

"We believe it belongs to LTTE leader (Velupillai) Prabhakaran," he said. "With the luxury items which we have come across there, it definitely has to be the leader's house."

The Tigers did not immediately comment on the report, but claimed they pushed back army troops and tanks in Puthukkudiyiruppu, killing 150 soldiers and wounding more than 350, on Sunday, S. Puleedevan, a top rebel official, said in a statement.

Independent reports from the war zone are not available because journalists and aid groups are barred from the area.

Humanitarian crisis
Aid groups say the fighting has spawned a humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the strikes on the hospital.

The Red Cross said more than 500 patients were in the hospital, and the wounded continued to arrive despite the afternoon attack on the facility.

The hospital is so crowded that many patients were forced to sleep on mattresses in the corridor, it said.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils in the north and east after decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war.

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