Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) entered northern Gaza at 22.30 on Tuesday, 28 September establishing positions on high ground overlooking Izbet Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia and Jabalia. This incursion came in the wake of the continued firing of home made rockets by Palestinian militants towards Israel, and the killing of three soldiers in Morag settlement on 23 September and one settler in Neve Dekalim on 24 September.
Heavy fighting has taken place in the last six days. The Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) has recorded 82 Palestinian deaths of which 24 were children. Three hundred and sixteen Palestinians have been injured of which over 110 were children. Five Israelis have died including two children who were killed by a home made rocket fired by Palestinian militants from northern Gaza into Sderot on 29 September.
Defence Minister Mofaz announced on 30 September, a “large scale and prolonged operation” aimed at pushing Palestinian missiles out of range of Sderot with plans to create a buffer zone that may reach up to nine kilometers. Israeli reinforcements entered northern Gaza on 30 September and it is estimated that up to 200 tanks, bulldozers and armoured personnel carriers are now present on the ground.
Jabalia Camp has remained the focus of the operation. Located to the north of Gaza city, the camp covers an area of 1.4 km2 with a registered refugee population of 103,646. The Israeli incursion has particularly focused on the Block 4 area of the camp as well as Blocks 2, 3 and 5. The area to the east of the camp between Sika street and Salah ed Din street has also been the site of extensive land leveling and infrastructure damage.
In the course of the last three days, the IDF has isolated Beit Hanoun from the rest of Gaza with no movement for the local population in and out of the area, with the exception of humanitarian cases where prior coordination is required. Movement in and out of the Tal el Zatar and Glebo areas in the east of Jabalia is all but impossible on account of the large numbers of Israeli tanks.
There are six primary health care centres in Jabalia run by the Ministry of Health, UNRWA and NGOs. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that all these centres are currently operating 24 hours a day. Two primary health care centres are present in Beit Hanoun. The UNRWA clinic has been adversely affected by the tight closure imposed around Beit Hanoun as most of its health staff live in Beit Lahia and Jabalia and are unable to reach their work place in spite of requests for coordination to the IDF. There is also one primary health care centre in Izbat Beit Hanoun run by the MoH which is currently closed because of the incursion. Two MoH health centres are in Beit Lahia and these are working 12 hours a day.
Medecins du Monde (France) undertook a brief assessment to the two northern Gaza hospitals – Kamal Adwan hospital (MoH) in Jabalia and Al Awda hospital (Health Work Committees) in Beit Lahia on 4 October. These are both 57-bed facilities that have received the majority of casualties in the last six days. MDM concludes that both hospitals have sufficient staff, drugs and consumables although supplies of oxygen were running low. (Since the assessment, ICRC reports that replacement supplies have been delivered to the hospitals from a private company based in Erez industrial estate).
In order to increase capacity, ICRC has provided an emergency surgery kit to Al Awda hospital which has sufficient supplies and equipment for 100 severely wounded or between 150 and 200 with less serious injuries. A second kit will go to Kamal Adwan. UNICEF has delivered an emergency health kit to the MoH that is destined for Kamal Adwan which has sufficient supplies to treat 30,000 people for one month.
Concern is growing over the increasing number of delays, denials of access and incidents involving ambulances operated by the MoH and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) . Of a total number of 13 incidents between 29 September and 5 October, 10 occurred in northern Gaza.
Delays of between four and eight hours have been recorded by both the MoH and PRCS. In one incident, a woman who was in labour had to wait four hours before being able to exit Beit Hanoun to reach Kamal Adwan . In one of two such incidents, a PRCS ambulance was hit by direct gun fire in Jabalia on 30 September leaving one paramedic with moderate wounds to his arm.
WHO along with UNRWA and ICRC is particularly concerned over the ability of patients with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and cardiac disorders to gain access to their required medications. This is particularly relevant to those areas that have become isolated on account of the large Israeli military presence and families are too afraid to leave their homes – Sika street, Tal el Zatar, Glebo and parts of Beit Hanoun. Interruptions in electrical supplies means that insulin can not be stored and patients require access to oral substsitutes.
Homes and Property
Given the volatile situation on the ground, it has proved difficult for UNRWA to undertake an accurate assessment of the number of homes that have been demolished. ICRC on the basis of its movement around eastern Jabalia in the last 3 days estimates that between 70 and 80 homes have been destroyed.
Further to the 1 October humanitarian update, ICRC has confirmed on the basis of its field visits over the last three days, that extensive land leveling has taken place between Sika street and Salah ed Din street. Given the volatile situation on the ground, it has not been possible for UNRWA or local organizations such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) or Al Mezan to undertake an accurate assessment of the extent of land that has been leveled since the start of the operation.
PRCS reported that there had been breaks in the electrical supply in blocks 2,4,5 and 6 of Jabalia camp. One of the principal activities of ICRC in the last three days has been to accompany Municipal engineers to restore power lines in the Sika street area and to date, power is largely restored, although the continued presence and movement of Israeli tanks can quickly lead to breaks in the system. UNICEF will provide five generators for the worst affected areas in Jabalia as a temporary substitute until regular power supplies are restored Breaks in the electrical network clearly have implications for the flow of water. ICRC has expressed concern over the ability of people living in Sika street, Tal el Zatar and Glebo to get access to regular supplies of water. ICRC has so far distributed 9000 litres of bottled water.
UNICEF has distributed 45 water kits in north east Jabalia with each kit designed to serve 10 families. No water shortages are reported in Beit Hanoun.
As the incursion approaches the end of the first week there is growing concern among international organizations over the ability of people to access food. In the worst affected areas, shops remain closed and people are too afraid to leave their homes to buy food. Both UNRWA and the World Food Programme (WFP) have been unable to undertake distributions since the start of the IDF operation. UNRWA attempted a distribution on 30 September but this had to be abandoned due to the proximity of fighting. ICRC has distributed 250 food parcels in the Sika street area.
UNRWA and WFP is seeking coordination with the IDF to do a joint food distribution targeting around 500 families at the earliest opportunity. Food supplies would be designed to last between two and four weeks depending on family size. UNRWA has emphasized the need to identify safe distribution points to allow families to collect the food.
No schools are open in Jabalia , Beit Hanoun or Beit Lahia. Two UNRWA schools have had boundary walls damaged by Israeli tanks. The Rawdet Tal el Zatar kindergarten serving 500 children aged between three and four has been destroyed. UNICEF reports the cost of ruined educational materials alone at $20,000.
International humanitarian staff working for the UN have been prevented from entering Gaza since Tuesday, 21 September. An attempt at coordination was made on Monday, 4 October for nine staff to return. Five staff were informed by the Israeli DCL before they left Jerusalem that their security clearance needed to be reviewed by the General Security Services while the remaining four were unable to enter Gaza when they arrived at Erez.