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ISRAEL-OPT: Three hour lull not enough - aid agencies
Aid workers unload desperately needed supplies in Gaza. They say the daily three-hour lull in fighting is not enough
TEL AVIV/JERUSALEM, 15 January 2009 (IRIN) - On 7 January the Israeli military instituted a daily three-hour lull in fighting during which Gaza residents were supposed to be able to stock up on basic supplies, medics and rescue crews would be able to reach people in need, and patients get to hospitals.
However, the lull was violated nearly every day - by Palestinian rocket fire into Israel and Israeli air strikes on suspected Palestinian rocket launchers - said aid workers.
The Israeli military set up liaison units to coordinate with international and UN agencies in a bid to boost humanitarian aid distributions in Gaza.
However, the amount of goods going in, and the time allotted to the humanitarian lull were simply not enough, aid workers said. Furthermore, getting vital medical workers into the enclave had been “challenging”, according to a UN official involved in the efforts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said two Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams were still waiting at Rafah border crossing (on the border with Egypt) to get into the enclave.
The spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Chris Gunness, said the three-hours were a “drop in the ocean” though he welcomed any move that would allow for some respite.
On 14 January, five aid agencies, including Oxfam and Save the Children, said: "The slim window of time each day is not nearly enough to address the dire humanitarian situation on the ground."
The group added: "Some fighting usually continues during the 'lulls' so humanitarian workers and the civilian population risk their lives moving around the Gaza Strip."
UNRWA aid workers said that even during the lull the refugees in Gaza were frightened to queue for bread and other food distributions, as fighting could resume at any time.
"On the best days, the lulls are barely long enough to distribute a minimum of aid to the people who need it," said John Prideaux-Brune, the head of Oxfam GB in Jerusalem.
Also, agencies like the Palestinian Water Authority told IRIN three hours was not enough to assess and repair damage.
CARE forced to suspend activities
Photo: Iyad El Baba/UNICEF-oPt
|Some 170 women are giving birth a day in Gaza. These Palestinian families have taken shelter at a school run by the UN in Rafah
On 15 January CARE International said it was forced to cancel distribution of aid for that day in Gaza, as bombs in Gaza City fell around CARE warehouses and staff distribution sites. CARE said in a statement that it had been planning to distribute emergency medical supplies to hospitals and clinics today, as well as baby food and blankets for newborns in shelters.
“This is the first day CARE has been forced to totally suspend activities in Gaza,” said Martha Myers, CARE International’s Country Director for West Bank and Gaza.
“This is a tragic situation. Desperately needed supplies are ready to be distributed today, but we cannot reach the people in need because of the bombing. Last week, our staff had to flee a food distribution because of the bombing. Yesterday, while our workers were packing the medical supplies for today’s distributions, bombs fell near the warehouse and our staff had to drop and run. This is not humanitarian access.”
The 15 January distributions were particularly critical, said Myers, as they were to target pregnant women and new mothers and their infants. According to UNFPA, there are 40,000 pregnant women in Gaza, and 170 women are giving birth a day - many of whom are unable to reach hospitals or receive health care for their babies.