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Aid agency roundup: Humanitarians struggle for access to Gaza, where "no place safe for civilians"

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 23 Jul 2014 06:45 GMT
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Netream Netzleam holds the body of her one-year-old daughter Razel, who medics said died from injuries sustained in an Israeli air strike, at her funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 18, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
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NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than 600 people have died as fighting in the Gaza Strip enters its third week, and aid agencies expressed concern at the growing number of civilian casualties in a conflict with no near end in sight.

"There is literally no safe place for civilians," Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Reuters.

Nearly 500 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes, and 100,000 people have sought shelter in schools of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where they need food, water and mattresses, Laerke said.

"This number continues to increase by the hour," UNRWA said in a statement on Tuesday, raising its emergency funding appeal to $115 million from $60 million.

The Palestinian leadership has proposed to Egypt a plan for a Gaza ceasefire to be followed by five days of negotiations to stop fighting between the Palestinians and Israel.

Here is a summary of the humanitarian response. If your agency is involved in emergency efforts, please email us at news.foundation@thomsonreuters.com.

SAVE THE CHILDREN

Of every five people killed, one is a child, and the number of children dying has risen by more than 40 percent since the beginning of ground operations in Gaza on July 17, according to Save the Children.

The charity said that on average seven children are being killed every day in Gaza and up to 70 wounded as medical supplies run low. More than 72,000 children are grappling with the psychological consequences of warfare and need counseling and support, it added.

"The last 48 hours have been the bloodiest, raising concerns about respect for the principles of civilian protection and proportionality under international humanitarian law,” Save the Children’s David Hassel said on Monday.

“We call on both parties to this conflict to respect the protection afforded to hospitals and schools, and recognise that they should not be targeted when innocent people have no other choice of refuge."

UNICEF

The overwhelming majority of people killed so far in the conflict are Palestinians, including 121 Gaza children under age 18, UNICEF’s Juliette Touma told Reuters. More than 900 Palestinian children are also reported to have been injured, according to the U.N.’s children agency.

CHRISTIAN AID

“The horrific escalation of violence in the region means the levels of need on the ground will continue to rise at a dramatic rate,” said Janet Symes, Middle East head of Christian Aid. “The current crisis is a result of decades of political failure. Without genuine dialogue and a determination from all sides to achieve a just peace, Palestinians and Israelis will be destined to live through the horrors of violence again and again.”

Christian Aid launched an emergency appeal on Tuesday to address the mounting humanitarian needs of civilians trapped in Gaza.

Humanitarian workers in Gaza described widespread destruction to agricultural land and homes and a severe shortage of medical supplies in hospitals, with some saying the health system in the strip is close to collapse.

Christian Aid said the Al Aqsa Hospital was among several health facilities that have been damaged during military operations. It provided services to over 300,000 people.

PALESTINIAN MEDICAL RELIEF SERVICES

“I have seen many horrible things. People have had to escape. They are fleeing from rockets and attacks. The main symptoms are trauma and shock,” Hassan Zain Eldeen, a doctor with the Palestinian Medical Relief Services (PMRS) told Christian Aid.

PMRS is operating two mobile clinics in Gaza, providing emergency healthcare and treatment to approximately 8,000 people every day.

INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS

ICRC condemned the shelling of the Al Aqsa hospital, which killed at least four people and injured scores of others.

“The surgical ward, the intensive care unit and pieces of life-saving equipment were all severely damaged, disrupting essential medical services,” read an ICRC statement. “The ICRC reminds all parties of their obligation to respect and to protect medical personnel, ambulances and facilities, as provided for under international humanitarian law.”

OXFAM

Oxfam condemned the hostilities and said that due to the increase in violence, important humanitarian work has been put on hold.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

Rights group Amnesty said that the continued shelling of civilian homes in several areas of the Gaza Strip and the targeting by Israeli forces of health care facilities may amount to war crimes, and called for a U.N.-mandated international investigation into violations committed by all sides.

Amnesty also called on the U.N. to “immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and Palestinian armed groups with the aim of preventing further serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by the parties to the conflict,” the rights group said in a statement.

DOCTORS OF THE WORLD

Medical charity Doctors of the World (also known as Médecins du Monde) said in a statement that several deliveries of urgently needed medical supplies to Gaza were blocked, and called for an immediate and unconditional opening of borders to let aid into the Strip.

“Humanitarian and medical staff still cannot be deployed. The delivery of staple goods has been brought to a standstill. With the flow of goods blocked at the Kerem Shalom border crossing for the whole of Sunday, Doctors of the World’s teams were unable to supply several health centers with medical products,” it said.

MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES

One Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) nurse chronicled her experience in Gaza as the Israeli military offensive began: 

“The difficult dressings are the ones for the small children, because you know they don’t understand, and they look at you wondering what you’re going to do to them. About 40 percent of the new cases we had since the war started are children of 5 years or younger. I remember a 5-year-old girl who had been burnt all down her back by hot water – which we see often – but she got the burn when running away from a shelling into hot water.”

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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