Gaza conflict 'full-blown' humanitarian crisis


The International Committee of the Red Cross urged Israel today to allow speedier access for ambulances to evacuate the wounded in Gaza which it said was mired in a "full-blown" humanitarian crisis.

The neutral agency also said it had unconfirmed reports that a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance station had been hit overnight in Jabaliya, site of a refugee camp.

"We are dealing with a full-blown major crisis in humanitarian terms. The situation of the people in Gaza is extreme and traumatic...," Pierre Kraehenbuehl, ICRC director of operations, told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We call on the parties, in particular on Israel, to do more to allow the Palestinian Red Crescent and other medical workers to carry out their work and save lives," he said.

The movement of ambulances and aid workers remains extremely difficult and dangerous despite a "stated willingness of Israeli authorities to facilitate the conduct of humanitarian activities," according to the Swiss aid veteran.

Access to medical care in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip was worsening by the day, he said. Two hospitals were about to run out of fuel for their generators, their only source of power.

"Many people in Gaza don't get emergency medical care they need. Some are even dying because the ambulances can't reach them in time, which is frankly appalling," Mr Kraehenbuehl said.

Israel and Palestinian authorities must make every effort to "keep civilians out of the firing line", he added.

Between 580 and 600 people have been killed in the 11-day-old conflict, and some 3,000 wounded, he said, although the ICRC had not separately verified the figures.

Four Israelis had also been killed and 60 injured by rocket attacks launched from Gaza into southern Israel, he said.

ICRC officials in Gaza had reported that the past night had been "the most frightening of all to date", Mr Kraehenbuehl said.

The Geneva-based agency had no information that Palestinian civilians were being used as human shields - as alleged by Israel, which says Hamas is firing rockets from densely populated areas and storing weapons in homes and mosques.

"Just as much as we are saying it is important that Israel take every measure to distinguish between civilian and military targets, it is important to underline the fact that it is prohibited under international humanitarian law to place these military objectives in the midst of civilians," he said.