Israel’s use of live fire causing desperate crisis in Gaza, says aid agency

UN agency UNRWA says it is ‘weeks away from painful cuts’ due to lack of funds

Relatives of a Palestinian, who was killed at the Israel-Gaza border, react at a hospital in Gaza on Monday. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Relatives of a Palestinian, who was killed at the Israel-Gaza border, react at a hospital in Gaza on Monday. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

 

Israel’s use of live fire against Palestinians in Gaza is causing an unprecedented crisis in the blockaded and besieged coastal strip, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Since the end of March, 132 people have been killed and 13,000 wounded approaching the fence separating Gaza from Israel when Palestinians began weekly demonstrations demanding the right to return to homes from which they were driven during Israel’s 1948 war of establishment.

“This is . . . a crisis of unprecedented magnitude,” says ICRC regional chief Robert Mardini. The number of wounded has surpassed those hurt during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza. Most victims are civilians, the “vast majority of whom have suffered severe wounds”.

About 1,400 have been struck by between three and five bullets, many in the legs, requiring complex surgeries. Calls for an independent inquiry have been rejected by Israel and quashed by the US in the UN Security Council.

The ICRC plans to install a 50-bed surgical unit at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. This will be the second emergency hospital to be set up since the protests began. On June 12th, Morocco opened a military field hospital with 13 physicians and 21 nurses and delivered 56 tons of food and 25 tons of medicines to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres “unequivocally [condemned] the steps taken by all parties that have brought us to this dangerous and fragile place” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israel, he said, has a responsibility to “exercise maximum restraint” and protect civilians as required by international law.

Poverty line

Israel’s use of live fire is only one of the crises faced by two million Palestinians trapped in beleaguered Gaza. Eighty per cent of Gazans are refugees, 53-60 per cent live below the poverty line and unemployment is 43 per cent.

Gaza receives electricity for four hours hours a day, forcing water purification and sewage treatment plants to shut down; beaches and coastal waters are polluted with sewage and 97 per cent of Gaza’s drinking water is contaminated.

Gazans suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Many take illicit drugs to cope, others have attempted suicide by protesting in the hope of being killed. During 2017, Gazans attending mental health clinics increased by 69 per cent.

The situation is certain to get worse since the UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is “weeks away from painful cuts” to emergency assistance due to lack of funds. Payment of employees’ salaries could be postponed in July while core operations could be suspended in August.

The Trump administration has released only $60 million of the regular US contribution to the UNRWA budget, withholding $305 million, agency spokesman Chris Gunness said.

UNRWA entered 2018 with a $148 million shortfall that has risen to $446 million due to the new US policy of denying Palestinians aid.

UNRWA is facing its worst funding crisis in its 68-year history. Mr Guterres said: “The additional instability caused by [UNRWA’s insolvency] in a region already wracked by conflict can, and must, be prevented if all act now to address this gap” in funding.

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