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Gaza medical services struggle to cope with influx of wounded

28-12-2008 Interview

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is gravely concerned about the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, following a series of air strikes by the Israel Defense Forces. In Israel, civilians have come under attack from rockets launched from Gaza that have killed at least one Israeli and wounded several others. Hospitals in Gaza are overwhelmed by the influx of wounded and the ICRC has called on all sides to the hostilities to respect international humanitarian law. One of the ICRC's health delegates in Gaza, Marianne Whittington, describes the situation.

   

  © ICRC    
 
  Marianne Robyn Whittington    
     What are things like on the streets of Gaza?
 

People are very afraid. They don't know when the next air strike might come. Everyone is scared that their neighbourhood may be targeted. The streets are pretty much empty and there are very few cars around. People are only venturing out of their houses if they absolutely have to.

We're in touch with Gaza's hospitals and health officials and they say they're totally overwhelmed. Even before the latest hostilities, they were already stretched to the limit because of a lack of medical supplies and staff resulting from the border closures and an ongoing strike by Palestinian health workers, which started in August.

They're struggling to cope with the sheer number of wounded and the complexity of the injuries that keep coming in. They say they desperately need medical supplies and parts to keep the generators working.

 How is the ICRC responding to the situation?  

On Saturday night, we provided two hospitals with medical supplies to meet immediate needs, and we've got enough supplies on-hand to help treat a further 600 people, with more on the way.

Our colleagues at the Palestine Red Crescent Society are assisting at the hospitals, while PRCS workers and volunteers have been helping to evacuate the dead and wounded from damaged or destroyed buildings.

We're working to assess the situation, which is very serious. Due to the insecurity, it's difficult for us to move around and to get a full picture of the scale of the humanitarian impact of the hostilities on civilians. What's clear is that those involved in the hostilities have an obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.

    

 What does that mean exactly?  

International humanitari an law, or the rules of war, require that a clear distinction be drawn between the civilian population and civilian objects on the one side, and military objectives on the other side.

It also states that attacks may only be lawfully carried out against military objectives. In particular, this means that they must take all feasible precautions in order to spare the civilian population from the effects of hostilities. We're in direct contact with the Israeli army and Palestinian armed factions and have reminded them of these obligations.

The law also requires that medical facilities, transports, and personnel must be respected and protected. In particular, all precautions must be taken to ensure that the wounded have access to medical facilities and care.