Khaleej Times Online, June 29, 2009
GENEVA – Six months after the Israeli offensive and two years of a blockade the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are struggling to survive and sliding into despair, the Red Cross said Monday.
“The people living there find themselves unable to rebuild their lives and are sliding ever deeper into despair,” a new report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
The report said that seriously ill patients were not getting the treatment they needed and thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed during Israel’s 22-day military operation at the turn of the new year were still without shelter.
“The poorest residents in particular have exhausted their coping mechanisms and often have to sell off their belongings to be able to buy enough to eat,” said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza.
“Worst affected are the children, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population,” he added.
Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza in June 2007 when the Islamist movement Hamas, which is pledged to the Jewish state’s destruction, took control of the Palestinian territory.
In late December last year, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza to stop Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel, which claimed 12 Israeli lives. Israeli air raids and tanks destroyed swathes of the coastal enclave and 1,400 Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian emergency services.
The ICRC report said in the wake of the Israeli offensive essential water and sanitation infrastructure remain largely insufficient and that the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools of basically untreated sewage is daily pumped into the Mediterranean Sea.
Some 4.5 billion dollars pledged by donor countries to rebuild Gaza is of little use if building supplies cannot get past the Israeli blockade, the ICRC said, calling for the lifting of restrictions on the movement of people and goods.
“Israel has the right to protect its population against attacks,” said Grand. “But does that mean that 1.5 million people in Gaza do not have the right to live a normal life?”
The Geneva-based humanitarian organisation said Gaza urgently needed to import medical equipment and building supplies including cement and steel, and its farmers needed access to their land in the buffer zone and its fishermen should be allowed back into deeper waters.
The ICRC also called for political authorities and the armed groups in Gaza to take the necessary steps to help the civilians.
“Humanitarian action can be no substitute for the credible political steps that are needed to bring about the changes the population of Gaza needs,” the ICRC said.