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Gaza: grief and devastation as fighting abates

18-01-2009 Operational Update

As fighting in Gaza has dropped off, people have been venturing out to look for missing relatives and see what is left of their lives. For many, the rubble reveals only further pain and despair.

  ©Reuters / S. Salem    
  18.01.2009. A Palestinian boy sits amid the ruins of his family's house, which was destroyed during Israel's military operations in Jabalya in northern Gaza.    
  ©Reuters / S. Salem    
  18.01.2009. People search for bodies of those killed during Israel's military operations in Gaza City.    

Sunday morning, ICRC teams and ambulances of the Palestine Red Crescent Society rushed to areas that had previously been difficult or even impossible to get to because of the fighting. By midday, approximately 100 badly decayed bodies had been retrieved from under the rubble. Sadly, no survivors were found, raising fears that the actual death toll could climb in coming days.

Many people who had fled went to extract their own dead loved ones from what had once been their home. Some were transporting bodies by whatever means they could find for immediate burial in the cemeteries. " We saw the bodies of two old women being taken away by family members on a donkey cart. Both had head wounds, " said Iyad Nasr, the ICRC's spokesman in Gaza. " It is almost impossible to describe the grief and devastation in that particular place. "

A number of areas, including parts of Beit Lahiya, looked like the aftermath of a strong earthquake – entire neighbourhoods were beyond recognition. Some houses had been completely levelled; others were still standing but were so badly damaged by shelling that it would be too dangerous to move back in. Roads were completely destroyed, making it almost impossible for vehicles to move through them. Friends and neighbours who had not seen one another for weeks hugged as they returned to their homes. Others sifted through the rubble, looking for pieces of furniture or kitchen utensils that could still be used.

As the fighting largely came to a halt and civilians no longer had to concentrate on simple survival, they now tried to come to terms with their loss.

" An old man approached me as I was assessi ng destruction in a neighbourhood, " said Nasr. " He told me that everything he had worked for all his life, everything he had achieved, had been destroyed: his house, his orchards of olive, citrus and palm trees. Everything. Then he wept. He just stood there with me and wept. "


  ICRC activities  
  • ICRC staff have begun assessing the immediate needs of the population in Tel Al-Hawa, Al-Atatra and Jabaliya, which were among the areas of Gaza City worst affected by the three weeks of hostilities.

  • The ICRC coordinated the trucking of fuel to Shifa Hospital and to the Specialized Paediatric Hospital in Gaza City to ensure that generators can meet the electricity needs.

  • The ICRC surgical team at Shifa Hospital continued to work in support of Palestinian doctors treating the injured. Sunday has been a relatively quiet day, ICRC surgeons reported with relief. Shifa Hospital, overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients in recent days, received 50 mattresses and 100 blankets to improve accommodation for the injured and sick.

  • ICRC staff escorted Palestinian engineers to assess damage to the Sheikh Ajleen wastewater-treatment plant south of Gaza City, hit by shelling several days ago. Repair work is planned for Monday.

  Activities of the Palestine Red Crescent Society  

Red Crescent ambulance teams have been searching all day for survivors and injured people, focusing on areas worst affected by the weeks of fighting. Together with other local ambulance services, including those of the Ministry of Health, Red Crescent staff have helped evacuate bodies found in the rubble.

Meanwhile, repair work continued at the Red Crescent's Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, which was hit by shelling on 15 January. Some services may resume in the next few days, enabling dozens of patients to be treated.

Between the start of the hostilities until Sunday's cease-fire, the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent were able to evacuate almost 1,100 people caught in the crossfire.


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)