The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains precarious as its 1.4 million inhabitants suffer the effects of the Israeli operation “Summer Rain.”
The number of casualties is increasing daily. As at 10 July 55 Palestinians had been killed and over 180 injured since the beginning of the operation, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. These numbers include both civilians and militants. On the Israeli side, one soldier had been killed in action.
Infrastructure was the main target during the first days of the Israeli military operation. The destruction of the power plant in Nusseirat resulted in the loss of half the power supply in the Gaza Strip. Water pumps and hospitals are now relying on fuel-driven generators and electricity partly provided by Israel. Rotating outages are occurring in Gaza City, where power is supplied from 6 to 12 hours per day in each area.
The Gaza Strip has been sealed off to a large extent by the Israeli authorities since 25 June. Karni, the main crossing point into Gaza for imported goods and humanitarian aid, has remained closed most of the time. It was opened briefly on 2 July to allow UN convoys to bring humanitarian supplies into Gaza and on 4 and 6 July to allow ICRC-provided supplies to enter (see details below). Erez crossing point has been used twice by the ICRC - on 10 and 11 July - to transport goods into Gaza.
For 10 days Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, were severely affected by military operations and remained inaccessible for two days each. The power and water supply networks in both towns reportedly suffered extensive damage.
Two Palestinian rockets hit the town of Ashqelon, Israel, on 5 and 6 July. Although there were no victims, the range of these rockets, believed to be around 12 kilometres, has alarmed the Israeli population. On 8 and 9 July, rockets hit the Israeli town of Sderot, wounding four Israeli civilians.
Maintaining an adequate water supply a major concern
The ICRC has assessed the water and sanitation situation in the Gaza Strip. Although no acute shortages of water or of fuel to run pumps and power the supply systems have as yet been reported, the situation remains precarious. Since only a few humanitarian organizations are permitted to take fuel and other goods into Gaza, stocks could quickly dwindle or vanish altogether. The situation is aggravated by widespread dependence on generators, which are at risk of breaking down owing to excessive use.
Palestine Red Crescent Society caring for the sick and wounded
The Palestine Red Crescent Society runs two hospitals in the Gaza Strip - in Khan Younis and in Gaza City - and a number of primary health-care centres. The Palestinian Ministry of Health is opening a new 40-bed hospital in Beit Hanoun for the treatment of conflict victims in the area. One Palestine Red Crescent ambulance will operate from the new hospital. Thus far, medical staff have been able to cope with existing stocks of medical and other supplies. Palestine Red Crescent primary health-care centres did receive extra first-aid supplies from the Ministry of Health.
The ICRC is working closely with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, in particular to ensure safe passage for Red Crescent ambulances through sensitive areas. It has provided the Society with two truckloads of medical supplies (see more details below).
The ICRC has received no reports of diseases resulting from water shortages.
People fleeing their homes and blocked at the border
So far, approximately 500 people fearing the impact of military operations have fled their homes in the southern town of Al-Shoka for other locations in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, several thousand Palestinians have been blocked since 25 June at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, unable to return to their homes in Gaza. One elderly man reportedly died of heat stroke and a 15-year-old boy died of a combination of sickness and harsh conditions at the border. Thousands of others are in need of humanitarian assistance. The material and psychological conditions in which they are living are a cause for serious concern.
On 3 July the Egyptian Red Crescent Society began to distribute ICRC-funded food parcels (each containing a one-month supply for six people) and water to some 1,000 Palestinians stranded on the Rafah border since 25 June. The ICRC will continue to help the Egyptian Red Crescent to respond to needs as they arise. At the same time, the ICRC is actively searching for a solution acceptable to all parties that will allow people to return to their homes, and it is stressing the need to deal with this issue on a humanitarian basis.
ICRC assisting people in Gaza since start of the military operation
As soon as operation “Summer Rain” began, ICRC teams were deployed to areas in the Gaza Strip difficult to reach by others in order to respond to the immediate needs of the population.
The first aid to reach the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the military operation passed through the Karni crossing on 4 July, when one truck and three trailers brought medical supplies for the Palestine Red Crescent, food parcels and other relief items. On 6 July an additional truckload of medical supplies reached the Palestine Red Crescent. This week, on 10 July, enough surgical and other medical supplies to treat 200 wounded people were delivered to the Central Medical Stores in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, between 6 and 11 July the ICRC moved in some 38,000 litres of fuel to be dispatched to various water stations in the Gaza Strip.
On 8 July an ICRC team provided an escort for Palestinian technicians who carried out repairs on the central power distribution system near Beit Lahiya, which had been extensively damaged in the military operation. The technicians managed to restore power for some 25,000 people living for the most part in the western part of Gaza City. The ICRC also coordinated safe access for Palestinian technicians with the Israel Defense Forces so that the damaged water distribution network could be repaired.
Several families living in areas where there has been no letup in military operations and movement is restricted - mainly in the south and north of the Gaza Strip - received food parcels, household items and water from the ICRC. On 1 and 2 July the organization provided 24 families in Al-Shoka, east of Rafah (south of the Gaza Strip), with 47 food parcels (each containing a one-month supply for six people). On 5 July an ICRC team visited families in Beit Hanoun who could no longer go to markets owing to military operations and supplied them with 110 food parcels, 15 jerry cans and medicines. On 8 July the ICRC distributed 97 kits containing hygiene items to 56 families who left Al-Shoka and are currently accommodated in an UNRWA school in Rafah.
Family visits to detainees suspended
The ICRC family visit programme, which enables some 18,500 Palestinians to visit their detained relatives in Israel each month, has been suspended for security reasons. The ICRC is currently examining the possibility of resuming the programme.
International humanitarian law must be respected
The ICRC has reminded all the parties concerned that international humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities. The ICRC has also publicly reiterated the obligation to take all necessary precautions to spare civilian life and property. All sides to the conflict must refrain from indiscriminate attacks and respect the principle according to which the impact of an attack on civilian lives and objects should not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
As the ICRC has pointed out on previous occasions, Israel is responsible for ensuring that the basic needs of the civilian population are met. Such needs include sufficient food and water, proper health care and shelter. Under international humanitarian law, Israel must allow free passage of food, medical supplies and other humanitarian relief.
The ICRC has also called on those who are detaining the Israeli soldier captured on 25 June to treat him humanely and to respect his life and dignity, as required by international humanitarian law. The ICRC has repeatedly offered its humanitarian services to all parties and has stated its willingness to visit the soldier, to provide him with medical care if needed and to restore contact between him and his family.
Activities carried out by the ICRC in Israel and in the occupied and autonomous territories in the first half of 2006:
The ICRC employs 262 people in Israel and in the occupied and autonomous territories, including 61 expatriates. The organization has maintained a continuous presence in the territories since 1967.