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Gaza: ICRC strives to evacuate and treat the wounded despite limited access

12-01-2009 Operational Update

People continue to flee from areas hard hit by fierce bombing and fighting. In southern Israel, rockets launched from Gaza continue to injure civilians.

  ©Reuters /I. Abu Mustafa 
  12.01.2009. Palestinians flee their home in Rafah    
  ©Reuters /I. Abu Mustafa 
  12.01.2009. Palestinian woman walks past a house in Rafah destroyed by an Israeli air strike    
  ©Reuters /Y. Weiss 
  Emergency workers evacuate an injured Israeli in Ashkelon.    

In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of families have left their homes over the past two days in neighbourhoods such as Jabaliya, Beit Lahiya and Zaytun in the north and in border areas in the south. More than 28,000 displaced people are currently in 36 United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools turned into temporary shelters.

In the areas most affected by the fighting, very few people manage to go out into the streets during the daily three-hour halt in hostilities. Sometimes fighting occurs even during these brief pauses.

" People who dare to go out rush to supermarkets to try to buy as much food as possible in anticipation of further and more intense fighting in the coming days, " said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza. " The shelves are now almost empty, and prices are soaring. " Long queues are forming at the very few bakeries that are managing to stay open in Gaza City. People sometimes have no choice but to go home empty-handed when the three-hour truce is over.

 Power supplies scarce or non-existent  

Most of the high-voltage lines bringing electricity from Israel into Gaza (providing some 90 per cent of the total Gaza power supply) have been damaged during hostilities. Some are located in areas where intensive military operations are taking place, making repair work risky if not impossible. The Gaza power plant is still operating, but has only two lines supplying Gaza City and central areas of the Gaza Strip. The other six lines are out of service as a result of the conflict.

 Hospitals struggling to cope with the wounded  

" Many people are coming in with multiple injuries, and the number of amputations is on the rise, " said Alice Nielsen, an ICRC health delegate working at Shifa Hospital, the main referral hospital in Gaza. The ICRC surgical team in Shifa confirms a rise in the number of children arriving at the emergency room.

According to the latest figures provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, just under 50 per cent of all wounded people currently arriving at Gaza hospitals are women and children.

Most hospitals in the Strip continue to run on generators 24 hours a day to keep life-saving equipment operating without interruption. Shifa Hospital is running low on fuel, which is putting treatment of 470 patients at risk, including 60 currently being cared for in the intensive care unit.


 ICRC activities  

" Our surgical team continues to work at Shifa Hospital but our movements in the field can only take place if all parties ensure the safe passage of our staff and those of the Palestine Red Crescent, " said Mr Grand. " We now have to assess on a case-by-case basis whether we can go on a rescue mission to evacuate people in need. "

Isolated groups of people are the most difficult to get to. " It is often hard to locate the people who have called for our help – and to reach them because of ongoing fighting and obstacles such as earthen barriers and damaged streets, " Mr Grand explained.

  • Today ICRC surgeons and nurses in Shifa Hospital helped local doctors to treat some 100 patients and to conduct 25 surgical operations.

  • ICRC staff conducted an assessment at a major wastewater treatment plant in Sheikh Ajleen, south of Gaza City, which was recently shut down. Repairs will be carried out Tuesday, provided that the staff can enter the area safely.

  • Thanks to tireless efforts by Palestinian engineers and technicians working with ICRC support, the power line supplying Shifa Hospital is now back in operation.

  • The ICRC also escorted trucks transferring fuel from the north of Gaza to the European Hospital in Khan Yunis.

  • Seven ICRC trucks brought 180 palettes of medical equipment came into Gaza on Sunday. Intravenous fluid and syringes and other disposable items will be distributed to the Ministry of Health and to the Palestine Red Crescent as soon as possible.


 Palestine Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom  

Owing to the intense fighting of recent days, the movements of Palestine Red Crescent medical teams remain extremely difficult and limited, despite coordination between the ICRC and the Israeli authorities. Palestine Red Crescent ambulances escorted by ICRC staff today removed three dead bodies from neighbourhoods in eastern and southern Gaza City. Yesterday, Palestine Red Crescent aid workers managed to evacuate 15 dead bodies from the Jabaliya refugee camp.

In southern Israel, Magen David Adom medical staff have continued to evacuate people injured by rockets and missiles in Ashdod, Ashkelon and Sderot and in nearby villages. Over the past two days, four civilians have been slightly injured by shrapnel and almost 50 others have suffered from shock.

  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)