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ISRAEL-OPT: Gaza medical system at breaking point - aid workers

JERUSALEM/GAZA, 3 March 2008 (IRIN) - Hospitals in the Gaza Strip were struggling to cope with the influx of wounded after five days of intense Israeli military activity, including a ground incursion and repeated air strikes, which has left at least 115 Palestinians dead and over 300 wounded, according to medical sources in the territory.

[Read this report in Arabic]

The Israeli military said the operation was meant to halt rocket attacks on southern Israel, and that about 90 percent of those killed were militants.

However, human rights groups and medical officials said at least a third of the dead were women and children. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement: "Children constitute more than half the population of Gaza and are bearing the brunt of the crisis."

Israeli troops started to withdraw from Gaza on the morning of 3 March, but militants continued to launch rockets which caused damage to homes and slightly injured some Israeli civilians over the weekend (1-2 March). Two Israeli soldiers were also killed in fighting in Gaza.

Medical sector

Aid workers said the medical system was at breaking point, noting that it had been under pressure after earlier violence as well as the blockade on Gaza and rolling power outages.

"We are very overcrowded, especially in the intensive care unit," Hassan Khalaf, director of Gaza's main Shifa hospital, told IRIN. Other units in the hospital were treating serious cases as the intensive care unit had run out of space.


Photo: Wissam Nassar/IRIN
Palestinians mourn relatives during funerals in Gaza on 2 March
In recent weeks non-urgent surgeries had been cancelled due to power outages, and the latest violence has only further distanced them from treatment. One aid worker said that eventually some non-urgent cases would become emergencies if not treated.

Some patients need to be referred for treatment outside the enclave, which cannot offer certain surgeries. On 2 March several dozen patients were sent to Israel and others were taken to Egypt, after the neighbouring state agreed to open its usually sealed border with Gaza on a one-off basis.

The Israeli Physicians for Human Rights told IRIN that over 20 patients, including the recently injured, still needed to be transferred outside the Strip, though whether those considered militants would be able to leave remained unclear.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was coordinating patient transfers as well as shipments of medical supplies into the enclave. It had provided hospitals with plasma as well as other needed materials and equipment.

Palestinians in the West Bank had answered calls to donate blood, and the ICRC was working to bring the bags into Gaza. Khalaf from Shifa said Gazans had been donating blood "24 hours a day".

Gaza hospitals remained in need of more items, including ventilators and X-ray machines, to properly handle all the wounded.

Jabalya refugee camp

The Jabalya refugee camp saw the worst of the fighting. UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, sent teams out following the Israeli withdrawal to investigate the damage. A main concern for UNRWA was that any destruction would not easily be fixed.


Photo: Wissam Nassar/IRIN
A Palestinian child stands inside his home in the Jabalya refugee camp, damaged during an Israeli incursion and airstrikes which left about 115 Palestinians dead in Gaza over five days
"We are not going to be able to repair damage to housing until we can get construction materials into Gaza," John Ging, UNRWA's Gaza chief, told IRIN. For the last eight months UNRWA has not been able to fix homes damaged in internal fighting as well as Israeli military operations due to the restrictions on importing cement.

Ging also expressed concern for the psychological well-being of the camp's residents, some of whom were trapped in their homes for extended periods of time, sometimes days, during the fighting.

The Coastal Municipalities Water Utility said during the fighting water supplies had been cut off for over 200,000 people in areas where fighting took place.

shg/ar/cb

Theme (s): Children, Early Warning, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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