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10 days into attacks, Gaza situation worsening

Source : IANS
Last Updated: Wed, Jan 07, 2009 03:40 hrs
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Gaza City: After 10 days of incessant Israeli air strikes and two days of ground fighting, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is quickly worsening, according to residents.

Residents of Gaza City, who have been without electricity for days, say they have only small amounts of drinking water. With even candles now a scarce commodity, Gaza City residents sit in the dark - many of them in winter coats as they keep windows open to avoid glass shards flying inside their homes from a possible nearby blast.

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Hospitals are running on unreliable emergency generators. On top of that, with the large influx of casualties - unprecedented in at least five decades of the conflict - those hospitals are in urgent need of blood units, anaesthetics, strong painkillers, tetanus vaccines and even body bags and sheets, according to the Red Cross.

The salient's power plant - supplying large parts of Gaza City and the north of the strip, has shut down for lack of industrial fuel. Six out of 10 power lines from Israel and one of two power lines from Egypt, which supply the rest of the strip, have been damaged in the Israeli strikes.

Only two bakeries remain open in Gaza City, with queues stretching all the way down the street. After venturing outdoors and waiting in line for hours on end, each customer can get one plastic bag with 50 small pita breads. Prices have nearly doubled since the offensive began.

Large parts of the strip also have no tap water, as power blackout mean pumps are not working.

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Umm Karim says she fills what bottles she can whenever a small trickle of water returns. The mother of four has left her western Gaza City home, which is close to the Palestinian presidential compound, a frequent Israeli target and has moved in with friends in the central Rimal neighbourhood.

Each family member has half a litre of water for 24 hours, so she has to think twice before she makes herself another cup of coffee.

A few supermarkets remain open. But many basic items, including dairy products and toilet paper, are missing from the shelves. And she won't buy chicken or meat because it would use up too much scarce gas to cook them.

Some 80 per cent of the strip's population of 1.5 million residents rely on food parcels handed out by UN and international organisations containing basic items, including rice, flower and oil. But those groups say they have had a hard time distributing their parcels amid the ongoing air strikes and ground combat.

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Israel, for its part, says that while civilian populations are affected in times of combat, it is doing what it can to avoid a humanitarian crisis. "Currently there is no such (humanitarian) calamity," the Israeli foreign ministry insisted in a statement on Monday.

The ministry pointed out that, since the Gaza offensive began, the Kerem Shalom border crossing with southern Gaza has been open to daily humanitarian aid, allowing in more than 400 trucks with 10,000 tonnes of supplies in the first week.

Some 2,000 units of blood donated by Jordan and 10 ambulances donated by Turkey and the Palestinian Red Crescent in the West Bank also passed through the crossing, while 20 Palestinians were evacuated to hospitals in Israel.

The UN says it is not enough. Before Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June, and under an EU-Palestinian-Israeli agreement from November 2005, some 475 trucks entered Gaza each day, noted the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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Philippe Lazzarini, OCHA's head in the Palestinian areas, urged Israel to also open its Karni crossing for commercial goods and allow in more supplies, as Kerem Shalom can handle only up to 100 trucks a day. He also urged Israel to accept a humanitarian truce to allow Gazans "a breathing space" and pick up their food aid without running risks to their personal safety.

"By any standard there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza," he said. "It's an unprecedented crisis for the people in Gaza. People are hungry, people are cold and people feel fear all the time," he added.

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