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Gaza: the challenge of reaching civilians in need

11-01-2009 Interview

Audio interviews with Antoine Grand, the head of the ICRC's sub-delegation in Gaza and Said Shaath, a Palestinian ICRC employee.

 Transcript of the audio interview  

Antoine Grand, the head of the ICRC's sub-delegation in Gaza, talks about efforts to reach civilians in danger as the Israeli offensive continues.  
What are the main challenges in responding to the current crisis?

It’s extremely difficult and at the same time extremely dangerous. As you know, air strikes are ongoing and the safety of our team is not ensured. Two days ago we had one of our convoys directly shot at by Israeli forces. The big challenge at the moment is to have access to the victims in such an unpredictable and dangerous context. We are stuck in a position where we have to balance the safety of our staff in the field and the needs of the people; all those wounded who need to be rescued, and who need to be evacuated from the conflict areas. We cannot afford to leave those people alone, without evacuation, without help. So we are obliged to take some risks, which we try to minimize as much as we can, in order to carry out our mandate and our mission. This is the greatest difficulty we face at present.

 How did you come to the decision to send a team into Zaytun on foot last week?  

There is no choice other than walking to collect all those wounded and all those people to evacuate. The decision was taken to take the risk to walk 1.5 kilometres in order to rescue these people. This was dangerous, it involved a lot of risk, but they decided to go ahead. I’m actually very proud of my team for that.


  Said Shaath is an “ECOSEC Field Officer” – a Palestinian ICRC employee specializing in economic security.  
 You have just escorted PRCS ambulances to Zaytun for the second time. What happened there and what did you see?  

On Thursday at 2.15 p.m. we received the green light to approach the area. We went to the first sand barrier. We stopped the ambulances and ICRC vehicles for the simple reason that those sand barriers had not been removed by the Israel Defense Forces. We were allowed to proceed to the location on foot. We managed to sweep a two kilometre square area finding, thank God, almost a hundred people alive. We took three bodies back with us.

 How were these people? In what shape did you find them?  


Unfortunately, we found eighty people in one house, consisting of many families who found it safer to gather in one house together. We found them very scared, the minute I approached this one house with eighty people inside, plenty of kids. Most of the group of people in this house were infants, children under ten. The old gentleman, the minute he saw us and heard us yelling to ask whether there were any survivors, he came up and approached the gate and he said " You dropped from the sky. We have been waiting for a saviour. " He believed that God had sent us.