Gaza: civilians continue to suffer despite hopes for imminent cease-fire

17-01-2009 Operational Update

While diplomatic efforts are under way to bring a halt to the war in Gaza, intense fighting on the ground continues, causing more civilian casualties and making humanitarian concern ever more acute.

Two children were killed and at least 14 injured after a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that was   sheltering displaced families was hit by Israeli shelling early Saturday. " There is now no safe place left in Gaza, " said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in the territory. " People are desperate to leave their homes and escape the fighting. But even those who manage to get to shelters don't feel safe. Families are living in continuous fear. "

Meanwhile, rockets continued to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel, resulting in the wounding of five civilians on Friday.

Since the beginning of hostilities three weeks ago, the ICRC has repeatedly reminded all parties to the conflict of their legal and moral responsibilities to spare and protect the civilian population and civilian objects.

" It's very tragic to see how many children have been killed in Gaza since this started, " Grand continued. " And we shouldn't forget the tremendous impact of the past three weeks on the psychological health of the entire population, especially young people. " According to the Ministry of Health, about one third of those killed since hostilities started in Gaza have been children. Half of those injured have been women and children.

 Horrific blast injuries  

Although Shifa Hospital continues to function in a well-organized and effective manner, its capacity to cope with the high number of patients is stretched to the limit. Apart from receiving and treating the newly injured, it has had to care for 60 pat ients evacuated from Al-Quds Hospital and a rehabilitation centre in Gaza City, both damaged by shelling on 15 January. The medical personnel of the hospital are themselves under increasing strain. Because of the intense fighting in the area in the past two days, many have not been able to return home to rest.

In the meantime, the influx of injured people goes on without let-up. " Most of the wounds we're treating have been caused by blast, " said Dr Samir Kazkaz, a Qatari Red Crescent surgeon who recently joined the ICRC surgical team at Shifa Hospital. " They are horrific and often require amputations. Twelve seriously injured people have had limbs amputated over the past 48 hours. "

Repair work at Al-Quds Hospital, which is run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), is under way after a quick assessment jointly carried out with ICRC staff. Water pipes supplying the facility were badly damaged by the shelling. Hospital services are expected to be back to normal in three to five days. The PRCS warehouse, which was also shelled on Thursday, was reduced to ashes. Very substantial stocks of relief goods were destroyed.

  Other ICRC activities  

  • The ICRC continued to coordinate with the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for families living in dangerous zones and requesting evacuation. Over the past two days, about 150 persons, at least half of them women and children, have safely left the Al-Fukhari area, close to Khan Yunis, south of Gaza City.

  • The ICRC transported one truck-load of medical supplies belonging to the Ministry of Health to the European Hospital and Nasr Hospital in Khan Yunis.

  • The ICRC coordinated the trucking of more than 25,000 litres of fuel to 10 hospitals and NGO-run clinics in Gaza City, including to Al-Quds hospital . Fuel is badly needed for hospital generators as well as for ambulances to move around and collect the injured and sick. During the past 48 hours, Shifa hospital has been powered exclusively by generators to avoid unexpected and life-threatening power cuts, especially for patients in the intensive care unit.

  • The ICRC helped repair the radio antenna of the PRCS main office in Gaza City. The antenna is essential to coordinating the movements of ambulances.

 Activities of the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom  

During the past two days, Red Crescent ambulance teams have been working under particularly dangerous conditions. Despite the danger, however, ambulance teams have done their utmost to evacuate injured people and the bodies of the dead.

Since the start of the conflict three weeks ago, Magen David Adom staff have evacuated and cared for over 660 civilians in the areas of southern Israel affected by rocket attacks from Gaza. Among them were four dead people and another four seriously injured.

 For further information, please contact  

 Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 34 43  

 Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50  

 Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)  

 Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)  

 Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)