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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

HRW: Israeli Should Allow Humanitarian Groups Into Gaza

JERUSALEM, January 14, 2009 (WAFA)- Israel should immediately allow humanitarian groups broad access to Gaza and the evacuation of the wounded to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population,Human Rights Watch said in a report released, Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch also urged the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is to visit Israel on January 15, to take urgent steps to help alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians.

Nineteen months of a highly restrictive blockade and two weeks of intense military operations have left Gazans in desperate need of food, water, electricity, and sanitation. Medical care is woefully inadequate to deal with the thousands wounded in the fighting. Civilians have nowhere to flee the aerial and ground attacks engulfing the Strip.

Human Rights Watch said that United Nations agencies have only been able to reach a small portion of those dependent on aid, which includes more than 80 percent of the population, since the Israeli offensive began on December 27, 2008. The electricity supply has slightly improved in recent days but remains low, and in some places open sewage is spilling into the streets. The ongoing fighting is preventing many families from leaving their homes to purchase food or obtain food aid. Children, who make up 56 percent of Gaza's residents, are especially vulnerable.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israeli attacks in Gaza had killed at least 997 Palestinians and wounded another 4525. More than 311 children and 100 women are among the dead; more than 1,459 children and 625 women had been wounded. According to the UN, more than 40% of the dead and 50% of the wounded are women and children.

'Gaza was in the midst of a humanitarian crisis even before this fighting started due to Israel's unlawful blockade, aided by Egypt's cooperation in keeping its border with Gaza closed,' said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch 'And now it is facing a catastrophe.'

The wounded are getting only rudimentary care from facilities that lack equipment, material and personnel. Hospitals have been running full-time on generators since December 30, when Gaza's only power plant stopped functioning, and in some hospitals, generator fuel is running low. According to humanitarian agencies and medical officials, many patients are needlessly dying because of a lack of timely medical care. A key problem has been the inability to transfer seriously wounded persons out of Gaza. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, at least 413 wounded were in critical condition as of January 11.

'The UN secretary-general's visit is an opportunity to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the need for protecting civilians,' said Roth. 'He needs to lean on all actors, protect civilians, and ensure accountability. Only an impartial international investigation can achieve that.'
Source: AJP

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