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Aid agencies ask the world to remember Gaza

[OPT] Palestinian mother and child in their tent in the poor village of Maslagh in the Gaza Strip. [Date picture taken: 06/23/2006]
Palestinian women in violent or life-threatening marriages have two legal options available to them: pressing charges for spousal abuse or initiating a divorce on the basis of physical harm - according to HRW (UNICEF-oPt)

Aid agencies and the United Nations are calling upon the international community not to forget the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, which they say is at least as serious as the situation in southern Lebanon.

"It's inevitable that the focus moves to Lebanon, but the crisis in Gaza is of a similar proportion," said Charles Clayton, director of the charity World Vision.

A petition signed by 30 aid agencies asks members of the international community to press for an immediate ceasefire between Hamas militants and the Israeli military, as well as ensuring full humanitarian access to Gaza and guaranteeing protection of civilian lives.

Gaza is a Palestinian-administered strip of land bordering Israel and Egypt. It was fully occupied by Israel from 1967 until mid-2005, when it was handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Israeli military re-entered Gaza soon after Hamas militants captured an Israeli soldier on 25 June. Despite efforts by Egyptian mediators to negotiate the soldier's release, he still has not been freed.

Since 28 June, 141 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza - including 30 children - and 511 people have been injured according to the UN. During the same period, one Israeli soldier has been killed and seven injured while seven Israeli civilians have been injured by rockets fired by Hamas militants out of Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Force (IDF).

The UN said that during this period the IDF fired an average of 250 artillery shells into Gaza daily, while Palestinian militants have fired about nine rockets a day into Israel.

"There are 1.4 million people [living in Gaza] and shells are simply falling among them,” Clayton told IRIN. “They are just as vulnerable as the 750,000 fleeing in Lebanon, but in Gaza they have nowhere to run because all the border crossings are closed and the world is looking somewhere else.”

"In just one night during the fighting in Lebanon more than 20 people died in Gaza, and I suspect that might not have happened in quite the same way if the world was not looking at Lebanon," said Liz Sime, country director for Care International. "We are worried that Israel may take this as an opportunity to step up its actions in Gaza and really do some damage."

William Dufourcq, Head of Mission for Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for the medical aid group Medecins du Monde, told IRIN the injuries suffered by Palestinians in Gaza are far more serious now than they were several years ago.

"There are many more mutilations requiring amputations as well as severe burns now than there were before," he said. "This means the hospitals stay full for longer and there is a greater need for skilled specialists as well as more drugs, which were already in short supply. These people will be handicapped for life."

Speaking from Gaza, Joe Stork from Human Rights Watch echoed the sentiment that Gaza was being forgotten. "Lebanon is eclipsing Gaza right now. But it's important not to lose focus on Gaza - that's why we are here.

"Houses and lives are being destroyed by shelling and in some cases we've investigated there seems little reason for it other than to generally intimidate people. There is also tremendous impoverishment."

According to the UN, only 30 per cent of the Palestinian labour force in Gaza is now receiving a wage. The UN said that more than 40 per cent of Gazans are employed by the PA but have not received salaries for months.

Financial aid to the PA from the US and European Union was cut off following Hamas's victory in the PA elections in January this year. Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the US.

David Shearer, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem, said he had been in discussions with the IDF over making sure aid could get into Gaza.

"The IDF was talking about an optimum number of 150 trucks a day,” Shearer said. “That's the absolute minimum needed to keep a population of 1.4 million alive. The checkpoint for aid has been closed off and on over the past few weeks.

"Gaza is not a Darfur-type situation. It is an urbanised, sophisticated and productive society. But it is slowly and surely being turned into a beggar society."

Israel said its current offensive on Gaza is a necessary military action.

"Israel entered the Gaza Strip following the kidnapping of an IDF soldier on Israeli territory in an action by Palestinian terrorists,” a spokesman for the IDF told IRIN. “A ceasefire has to be negotiated by both sides. Negotiations have brought no success in gaining the soldier's release.

"The objective in Gaza is now to clean the border zone, just as it is in southern Lebanon. We need to protect our civilians. Our troops are destroying arms caches, tunnels and are fighting terrorist groups. The end of our action in Gaza is the end of terrorist actions - it's as simple as that.

"At the same time, we are very conscious of the pain and suffering of the Palestinian civilian population. We do everything possible to try to persuade them to leave combat zones and not to stay in dwellings where there are weapons," the spokesman said.

TS/AG/LS/ED


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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