UNITED NATIONS - International aid groups, including several United Nations
agencies, are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza if Israel does not
stop its military action there immediately.
"The consequences of [further] military action by Israel would be disastrous,"
said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, a London-based aid organization
that is providing food and water for Palestinians affected by the Israeli blockade.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza depend on Oxfam and other international
aid agencies for the basics of life clean water, food, and sanitation.
Before the recent Israeli bombing campaign, Gaza had been cut off from the outside
world for 19 months.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also expressing similar
concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The group says hospitals
are "overwhelmed and unable to cope with the scale and type of injuries
that keep coming in."
More than 300 hundred Palestinians are reported to have been killed and
nearly 1,000 wounded since the Israeli air force began bombing Gaza Saturday.
"Our first priority is to get more medical supplies to the hospitals right
away," said ICRC's Pierre Wettach. "It is therefore essential
that this urgent humanitarian assistance is allowed to enter Gaza."
Before the recent attacks on Gaza, aid organizations had repeatedly stressed
that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was hindering their efforts to reach out to
Palestinians who were in dire need of food and medicines.
Currently, nearly half of the population in Gaza does not have enough food
to meet its basic needs. A majority of the population are refugees who were
driven out of their homes by the Israeli occupation in 1948.
In a statement, Oxfam and other aid agencies including CARE International,
Medico, and Diakonia said the Israeli aerial assaults on Gaza had further
complicated their relief efforts in the territory and noted that it was causing
more suffering to the innocent.
"The blockade is illegal and constitutes collective punishment of ordinary
men, women, and children," said Diakonia's Christoffer Sjoholm, who,
although critical of Palestinian rocket attacks, condemned Israel's plans
to carry out further attacks on Gaza.
Oxfam says it wants world leaders to push the Israelis to open all crossing
points into Gaza so food, water, and medical supplies can pass through and provide
immediate relief to affected citizens.
On Monday, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) expressed deep concerns about the
impact of the Israeli aerial attacks and demanded that the Jewish state must
allow the humanitarian supplies to enter.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called for Israel to take such actions.
"The frightening nature of what is happening on the ground, in particular,
its effects on children who are more than half of the population, troubles me
greatly," Ban said. "I have continuously stressed the need for strict
observance of international humanitarian law."
According to the UN, last Sunday about 60 truckloads of supplies were allowed
to enter Gaza. However, UN Chief for Relief Operations John Holms has warned
that the increasing death toll could create an overwhelming affect on humanitarian
A statement released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates
that many more deaths are likely as hospitals in Gaza are lacking sufficient
"The ability of the hospitals to cope with a problem of this magnitude,
if the situation continued unchanged, will result in surge in preventable death,"
a UNICEF spokesperson said in a statement. "Civilians are paying the price
for a long blockade."
In addition to other UN agencies and independent aid organizations, UNICEF
is currently trying to persuade the Israeli authorities to allow safe passage
for the supply of medical and food items.
In recent days, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
in the Near East (UNRWA) has repeatedly expressed its concern over the Israeli
efforts to stop aid supplies. The agency stresses that days and weeks before
the current military action the blockade was already hurting some 1.5 million
In a statement, UNRWA's head Karen Abu-Zayad said she was horrified by
the current situation in Gaza and wanted the Israeli government to heed calls
for ceasing its bombardment of Gaza.
Meanwhile, a UN spokesperson told reporters in New York that the Middle East
Quartet comprised of the UN, the European Union, Russia, and the U.S.
held a teleconference Tuesday to discuss the situation in Gaza. During
that teleconference the Quartet called for an "immediate cease-fire."
Stressing that the Quartet statement is not yet official, Marie Okabe, Ban's
deputy spokesperson, said that, the Quartet has "called on all parties
to address the serious humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza and to take necessary
measures to ensure the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies."
(Inter Press Service)