Gaza humanitarian situation deteriorates as death toll rises

A wounded child is treated at a hospital in Gaza City following Israeli airstrikes on 14 January 2009. (Mohamed Al-Zanon/MaanImages)

1pm Gaza Time (2hrs GMT)

Monday night and today saw a serious escalation of the violence of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the Gaza Strip in the past week. Starting at 10pm yesterday, the IOF stepped up its ground invasion and attacks from the air and the sea. The IOF launched ground incursions deeper into western Beit Lahia and Jabaliya, and into the northern, eastern and southern suburbs of Gaza City. Al Mezan Center’s staff members who live close to these areas witnessed the use of white phosphorus bombs in these areas, a fact that has been supported by visits to hospitals and interviewing victims.

The numbers of casualties and destroyed properties in Gaza have also continued to rise as a result of the IOF’s attacks. According to Al Mezan Center’s monitoring, the IOF killed 59 Palestinians last night and today at 1pm. Of those, five were children and five women. Another 302 people were injured; including 94 children and 35 women.

According to Al Mezan’s careful monitoring, the IOF has killed at least 935 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since the start of its Operation Cast Lead on 27 December 2009. This number includes at least 191 children and 66 women. This number is restricted to those whom Al Mezan has verified and double-checked. The Center estimates that between 200 and 245 children have been killed. Many of those have still been under the rubble of houses under areas under IOF’s invasion. Seven of those who were killed by IOF were ambulance crewmen, who were killed while trying to reach victims of IOF’s attacks. The number also includes three journalists and dozens of elderly people. With the casualties included in this release, Al Mezan estimates that 80 percent to 85 percent of the casualties were civilian non-combatants.

The IOF has also continued to target medical teams. Last night, an attack on a medical team killed a doctor and injured an ambulance driver.

At Approximately 4:17pm, on 12 January 2009, an IOF aircraft fired a missile at Hammouda and Banna apartment complex, which is located in al-Zarqaa area in Jabaliya town. While the residents of the compound were trying to evacuate their apartments following the first attack, the IOF fired several artillery shells at the tower, killing 18-year-old Ayat Kamal al-Banna, and injured four others, including two children. Once ambulances arrived at the scene of the attack to pick up the victims, at approximately 4:22pm, the IOF fired several missiles at them, hitting an ambulance. As a result, a 28-year-old doctor, Issa Abdul-Rahim Saleh, was killed and 25-year-old Ahmed Abdul-Bari, the ambulance driver, was injured. The shelling of the same apartment compound continued, killing a 23-year-old woman, Ferial Kamal al-Banna, and a 20-year-old man, Mustafa al-Basha. Another five people were also injured.

With this attack on the ambulance, the number of medical personnel who have been killed by the IOF since the beginning of the Israeli operation has reached seven. Another five were also injured, including three who have been reported to have sustained serious injuries.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian conditions for hundreds of thousands of people have continued to deteriorate. In particular, the conditions lived by thousands of Gazans who live in areas under the IOF invasion are unbearable because they have been completely cut off without any supplies. Al Mezan believes that after the current invasion stops, stories of severe hardship and loss of live due to lack of food and water could be revealed, according to reports from survivors who have managed to leave these areas. An unknown number of people are still under the rubble of their houses for several days, especially in the eastern neighborhoods of Gaza City and Jabaliya, and the northwestern areas of Beit Lahia. Al Mezan has not been able to access these areas. The IOF has also prevented international humanitarian organizations’ access to them, while it is urgent that their personnel and equipment get in these areas to search for the dead and the wounded.

Today, Al Mezan has received data from the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility indicating that the Israeli attacks have caused serious damage to water and wastewater network without the utility being able to fix them. As a result, 295,000 people in Gaza have been left without any water at all, while most of the population cannot receive water due to power cuts. Moreover, the Utility reports that the main sewage treatment plants have not been working. In particular, tens of thousands of people face the risk of serious floods because the North Gaza Treatment Plant is being overloaded. This despite the frequent calls on relevant international parties to make it possible for the utility to access the locations where repairs are urgent.

Based on its observations and monitoring, Al Mezan Center reasserts that the IOF has been regularly committing acts that well fit the definition of war crimes, in particular by deliberately targeting civilians and civilian objects since the start of its Operation Cast lead in Gaza. Al Mezan believes that such conduct would not have been possibly continued this long if the international community had taken a firmer stance against such treatment of civilians. While hundreds of civilians have been exposed to killing and misery, the international community initiated a long debate on the political aspects of the current crisis. Priority should have strictly been given to ensuring respect to international law and protection of civilians.

Hence, Al Mezan Center calls upon the UN Secretary General, as a matter of utmost urgency, to focus on the protection of civilians who are the main victims of the violation of international law by Israel. Political debates can wait, however, civilian life cannot be compensated. The United Nations is called on to immediately ensure access to the dead, the wounded and survivors inside the areas under Israeli invasion in the east of Gaza City and northwest of Beit Lahia; a task that cannot be achieved without using heavy equipment for rescuing people from under the rubble.

Given the scope of forced evictions across the Gaza Strip, the Al Mezan Center, while unable to provide a precise number of the displaced people, believes that only 10 percent of these people are currently staying in the UN shelters. The majority of displaced people chose to stay with their relatives and/or friends.
Al Mezan Center calls for opening and making public more shelters for displaced people. It has observed that shelters are overcrowded, which makes their conditions difficult, and deters others who need shelter from seeking it.
Al Mezan Center also renews its calls on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, of 1949, to live up to their legal and moral responsibilities upholding their own obligations under Common Article 1, by respecting, and ensuring respect of, the Convection.

The Center, while commending the worldwide action against these violations, calls on civil societies around the world to exert more pressure on their governments so that they act in conformity with the relevant human rights and humanitarian obligations as prescribed in relevant international law.

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