Gaza and West Bank: Reaching out to all victims amidst growing crisis

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27-07-2014 Operational Update No 01/2014

The conflict now under way affecting the Gaza Strip and Israel is exacting an appalling price from the civilian population. While attempting to reach all people in need of help, humanitarian workers themselves face acute security risks. A Palestinian Red Crescent volunteer was killed as he attempted to treat wounded people in Khuzaa, south of Gaza City, on 25 July. Other paramedic volunteers who tried to rescue him were also targeted, making it impossible to bring him to hospital in time. Another volunteer was killed and three others wounded in Beit Hanoun earlier the same day.


Beit Hanoun, Gaza, 26 July 2014 © Reuters / Finbarr O'Reilly

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) firmly condemns this extremely alarming series of attacks against humanitarian workers, ambulances, and hospitals. These are serious violations of the law of war. An immediate stop must be put to them.

The ongoing hostilities have taken a major human toll and caused widespread material damage, including the destruction of vital infrastructure. According to health officials in Gaza, more than 1,000 people had been killed and a further 5,430 injured as of 27 July. One out of four of these casualties were reportedly children.

All Gazans are affected: some have lost their home, some have fled, some are trapped in the midst of combat zones, but all are in the line of fire, fearing for their own safety and that of their loved ones. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed or damaged, resulting in over 100,000 people being forced to flee. Many of them are staying in camps, schools, places of worship or with relatives. Even there, no one can feel safe. People are living in constant fear of a violent death, and many are exhausted from not having slept in days owing to the loud, horrifying nights. The toll taken by this conflict is being paid overwhelmingly by civilians.

The situation in the Gaza Strip – where the population had already been facing chronic difficulties caused by fragile infrastructure, a stagnant economy and restrictions on the movement of people and goods as a result of the ongoing closure of the Strip – has been further exacerbated since the launch of the ground operation on 17 July.

In Israel, thousands of rockets have caused three deaths, 77 injuries and damage to civilian property across the country, with people living in fear and constant stress.

Meanwhile, the escalation of violence and civilian casualties in the West Bank is also a matter of grave concern to the ICRC. Our staff are present on the ground, closely monitoring the situation. We have pursued our bilateral dialogue with the occupying power regarding the need to do its utmost to ensure public order and safety, to protect civilians from attacks as far as possible and to comply with international standards of law enforcement.

Humanitarian priorities

In order to relieve suffering in the densely populated Gaza Strip, the ICRC is working tirelessly with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and local authorities to restore people’s access to water, medical care and shelter. Red Crescent ambulances, backed up by ICRC staff, are working around the clock to save lives and take wounded people to hospital.

However, the biggest challenge is to protect people from further attacks and the effects of the fighting. The ICRC has stepped up its dialogue with the parties to the conflict about the conduct of hostilities, reminding them of their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the need to take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian infrastructure. Humanitarian aid to some extent relieves the suffering caused by the violence, but it cannot prevent that suffering. Ultimately, only effective action at the political level can afford civilians true protection.

Health

Helping take the sick and wounded to hospital and supporting the work of those hospitals are vital activities, which the ICRC is carrying out around the clock. Throughout the conflict, the ICRC has been working hard to ensure access to medical care. Its efforts include:  

  • providing financial and material aid to the Palestine Red Crescent’s emergency medical services;
  • coordinating with the authorities concerned on dozens of occasions to facilitate the safe movement of ambulances through conflict-affected zones;
  • donating nine war-surgery kits (one kit being enough for 50 seriously wounded patients or 1,500 patients with minor injuries), medicines, surgical equipment, 300 body bags, 20 stretchers, 120 hospital beds, wheelchairs, four sets of surgical dressings kits and 200 first-aid kits;
  • providing fuel for ambulances and hospital generators, and helping deliver fuel donated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency;
  • aiding Al Aqsa hospital following a shelling incident, so that it could at least give patients emergency treatment before their transfer by the Red Crescent to other hospitals;
  • assigning to Al Shifa hospital an ICRC doctor specializing in emergency medicine;
  • playing a protective role in behalf of the Red Crescent and civil defence organizations taking the sick and wounded to hospital;
  • working to facilitate the entry into Gaza of medical supplies from the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the Red Crescent in Ramallah, as well as from other organizations;
  • arranging for the delivery of 76 pallets of medical supplies from Ministry of Health in Ramallah to the central medical storage facility in Gaza.

The ICRC has also striven to ensure that the civilian population is not further affected. To this end, it has been:

  • helping protect health-care facilities and storage areas by coordinating with all sides to avoid damaging them;
  • making immediate representations to the belligerents on behalf of hospitals such as Al Wafa and Al Aqsa which have been affected by the hostilities, as well on behalf of ambulances working in the field;
  • monitoring and documenting action by any side that prompts its concern during the conduct of hostilities;
  • coordinating its activities with those of other organizations such as the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Water and sanitation

The ICRC has taken the following action:

  • carried out 20 projects since the conflict began to ensure that some 370,000 people have renewed access to water and sanitation;
  • helped assess and repair damaged water and electrical infrastructure (Upon request, the ICRC also accompanies technicians from other entities to ensure their safety.);
  • worked closely with the local water board to monitor the condition of the water-supply and distribution facilities, as well as that of sewage systems;
  • carried out emergency repairs in Beit Hanoun and Rafah, for instance, to restore electrical power;
  • delivered 1,500 litres of drinking water to Kamal Edwan hospital for collection by Beit Hanoun hospital.

Relief

The ICRC has worked closely with the Palestine Red Crescent to meet the vital needs of the homeless. In particular it has:

  • aided, thus far, over 3,500 displaced people in six different locations (The ICRC and the Red Crescent are currently finalizing a broad plan to help meet the needs of tens of thousands of displaced people.);
  • distributed essential items such as blankets, mattresses, cooking utensils and tarpaulins for shelter to over 500 families with damaged or destroyed homes;
  • helped the Red Crescent map damaged houses as a means of assessing needs;
  • helped the Red Crescent assess the needs of displaced people living in provisional shelter (government buildings, private schools, churches, etc.).

Working together with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom

  • The Palestine Red Crescent has taken a total of 2,625 wounded people to hospital and 461 bodies to morgues since the conflict began. In the process, the ICRC took action to ensure access and protection in more than 35 cases involving particularly unsafe areas.
  • The ICRC is providing operational support to the Palestine Red Crescent – which has publicly appealed for substantial donations – by means of increased funds and other resources. (The Society has so received 2.73 million Swiss francs in aid from the ICRC.)
  • In order to take wounded and sick people to hospital, the Red Crescent has 42 ambulances based at five stations across the Gaza Strip. In addition, it runs hospitals in Gaza City and Khan Younis, a rehabilitation centre in Khan Younis, and six smaller health-care centres. The ICRC is doing its utmost to support this work.
  • Joint ICRC / Red Crescent convoys travel to areas where military operations are under way. The ICRC does what it can to optimize humanitarian access.
  • The ICRC and the Red Crescent (over 400 volunteers) have been carrying out a joint operation focused on emergency relief and shelter.
  • The ICRC and the Magen David Adom have made many joint trips to the field in order to monitor needs in Israel and the ICRC has continued to document cases affecting the civilian population and civilian property.

It is crucial to ensure a stable stock of live-saving medical supplies and equipment. Since the hostilities began, the ICRC has itself brought in, or arranged for the transport into Gaza, of the following items:

  • enough medical supplies to treat 300 seriously wounded people for one week;
  • some 500 kits containing essential household items;
  • a further 117 pallets of such items for distribution by the Red Crescent (enough to help hundreds of needy people);
  • 12 truckloads of medical supplies and blood units for use by the Ministry of Health;
  • a consignment of medical items for use by Médecins Sans Frontières.


For further information, please contact:
Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 48
Maria Cecilia Goin, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972526019150  or  +972 598935468
Ran Goldstein, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 52 27 57 517
Sitara Jabeen, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 78  or  +41 79 536 92 31

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