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Gaza: chaos as conflict intensifies

04-01-2009 Operational Update

The situation in Gaza since the Israel Defense Forces launched their ground offensive on Saturday night has become both chaotic and extremely dangerous. It is difficult for the ICRC to move around and assess the urgent humanitarian needs created by the continued shelling and bombing, and by fighting on the ground. The ground attack has forced a number of people in the north of the Gaza Strip to flee their homes.

  ©Reuters /S. Salem 
  04.01.2009 An emergency worker carries a wounded Palestinian boy into hospital in Gaza.    
  ©Reuters /I. Zaydah 
  04.01.2009 A little Palestinian girl cries at the funeral of her brother, killed in an air strike on northern Gaza.    


The fighting is causing damage to hospitals, water supply systems, government buildings and mosques. A number of water supply lines have been severed during bombardments, making it very difficult for families in certain areas of the Gaza Strip to get hold of safe drinking water.

At the same time, rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel continued.

" We are seriously concerned about the reports we are receiving with regard to civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects, " said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. " The safety of civilians is our primary concern in this conflict and we are calling on all parties to spare the lives of all those who are not directly participating in hostilities. "



Hospitals are having to deal with a new influx of wounded people. It is extremely important that they receive new supplies almost every day. The ICRC has received urgent requests for strong painkillers, anaesthetics, body bags and sheets to wrap dead bodies.

Hospitals are now completely dependent on generators for electricity. Many of these generators are unreliable due to lack of maintenance and because of the Israeli restrictions on the import of spare parts. The generators are running around the clock, which means that some of them may break down at any moment, making it impossible to use life-saving medical equipment.

ICRC action
  • An ICRC war-surgery team that had been awaiting Israeli authorization to enter Gaza for the past three days has now received permission. It is on standby in Jerusalem, and will be moving in to Gaza on 5 January. Once the team is able to enter the Strip, it will be helping surgeons at Shifa Hospital to treat complicated injuries.

  • Although it is extremely difficult for ICRC staff to move around the Strip, they have managed to escort technicians repairing damage to power lines supplying the northern part of Gaza with electricity from Israel. In coordination with the Israeli authorities, the ICRC has also arranged safe passage to particularly dangerous areas for a number of ambulances and a fire brigade team, to make sure that they were not hit by shelling while assisting people in need.

  • The ICRC has also assisted the Sisters of Mother Teresa Centre for the mentally handicapped, providing nappies and drinking water.

  •   Palestine Red Crescent and Magen David Adom  

Military operations have prevented Palestine Red Crescent ambulance staff responding to many calls. On Sunday, for instance, a woman in Zeitoun in the northern part of Gaza was unable to get to hospital before she gave birth. Her baby was born dead and she suffered a ruptured uterus. Her family had been calling for several hours, and the woman eventually had to be taken to hospital in a donkey cart.

From Saturday mid-day to Sunday mid-day, the Palestine Red Crescent's medical services handled 176 wounded and 36 fatalities.

The Magen David Adom is continuing to provide medical services in southern Israel to people affected by the rockets launched from Gaza. The MDA reports that over the last nine days four people have been killed in southern Israel and 60 injured, four of them seriously.

For further information, please contact:
  Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
  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)