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Gaza: access to the wounded remains top priority

07-01-2009 Operational Update

After nearly two weeks of uninterrupted fighting, obtaining access to the wounded remains difficult and is the highest priority in the Gaza Strip. Humanitarian organizations must be able to carry out their activities in safety.

  See more on:
  • The Geneva Conventions
  • Customary rules of IHL

      ©Reuters /M. Salem 
      06.01.2009. An old man with his grandson at a U.N. school after they fled their home.    
      ©Reuters /M. Salem 
      06.01.2009. A wounded girl being carried to Shifa Hospital in Gaza    
      ©Reuters /S. Salem 
      06.01.2009. A destroyed house in the southern Gaza Strip    

Yesterday, 6 January, several attempts by the ICRC to transport medical supplies to hospitals had to be abandoned because of fighting, even though the ICRC had made arrangements for safe passage. The ICRC also attempted to escort five ambulances of the Palestine Red Crescent Society to the south of the Gaza Strip in order to collect seriously wounded people, but was unable to do so because of the ongoing fighting.

The Israeli authorities announced that a humanitarian corridor will be opened and that they will halt attacks for three hours a day to help humanitarian organizations carry out their work. " This is an important development, " said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. " We now have to see if it actually works – and for this to happen it must be respected by all parties to this conflict. However, what we need now is a permanent security arrangement for the entire Gaza Strip that would allow ambulances to pick up the wounded. In addition, trucks with urgently needed humanitarian supplies must be able to reach hospitals, shelters and other facilities. "

The creation of humanitarian corridors will in no way alter the fact that civilians living outside them must also have access to humanitarian aid and medical care at all times. Moreover, ambulances, technicians maintaining vital services such as electricity and water networks, and humanitarian workers must be allowed to carry out their life-saving work throughout the Gaza Strip.

The ICRC will continue to press for efficient coordination allowing speedy and safe passage for ambulances collecting the wounded, and to deliver medical supplies and make arrangements for safe passage for technicians attempting to repair urgently needed power lines and water supply systems that have been damaged by the bombardments.

The ICRC was shocked to learn of the Israeli attack on an UNRWA shelter for displaced people in Jabaliya on Tuesday, which killed and injured a large number of people. " We too had referred families who were seeking safety to this particular shelter, " said Pierre Wettach. " This is a very serious incident which shows that people cannot be sure of finding safety anywhere right now. We take note that UNRWA has called for an independent international investigation into this incident and we reiterate that the parties must do everything possible to spare civilian lives. "

ICRC activities

  • After safe passage was arranged by the ICRC, technicians repaired one of the damaged electricity lines from Israel into Gaza yesterday. The repaired power line meets the electricity needs of 30 per cent of Gaza City's population. Three other damaged electricity lines are to be repaired as soon as possible, if possible today.
  • An ICRC surgical team is now working to support the overstretched staff at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which had a particularly large influx of patients with multiple trauma on Tuesday. The team helped resuscitate patients in the emergency room and performed operations. There are now two operating tables in each of the six operating rooms in Shifa Hospital.
  • The ICRC arranged safe passage on Tuesday for eight ambulances that transferred seriously wounded patients from hospitals in Gaza to the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
  • Three trucks will bring medicines, other medical supplies, blankets and hygiene kits from Jerusalem to Gaza today.
    Activities of the Magen David Adom and the Palestine Red Crescent Society  

Additional staff and volunteers of the Magen David Adom were brought to southern Israel from other parts of the country to provide urgent medical services and evacuate injured civilians to the nearest hospitals.

Magen David Adom dispatching centres have taken calls from hundreds of inhabitants suffering from anxiety and emotional trauma because of the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza.

The Palestine Red Crescent transported 40 dead and 80 wounded from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning, including 16 dead from the UNRWA shelter in Jabaliya on Tuesday. No ICRC-escorted ambulance runs coordinated with the warring parties managed to reach the areas where desperate families were waiting for help.

  For further information, please contact:
  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 24 58 or +41 79 217 32 24
  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)