‘No safe place for civilians’ in densely populated Gaza, says UN

Nearly 500 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and 100,000 people have sought shelter in UN schools

A woman reacts at the funeral of seven members of her family who were killed overnight in an attack in Gaza City. Photograph: Wissam Nassar/The New York Times

A woman reacts at the funeral of seven members of her family who were killed overnight in an attack in Gaza City. Photograph: Wissam Nassar/The New York Times

 

Palestinian civilians in densely populated Gaza have no place to hide from Israel’s military offensive and children are paying the heaviest price, the United Nations said yesterday.

Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip, saying no ceasefire was near as US and UN diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives as the conflict entered its third week.

“There is literally no safe place for civilians,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a news briefing in Geneva.

The death toll is rising in the coastal enclave which has an estimated 4,500 people per square kilometre, he said. The priority for aid agencies was protecting civilians and evacuating and treating the wounded.

Funding appeal

Nearly 500 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and 100,000 people have sought shelter in schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where they need food, water and mattresses, he said.

“This number continues to increase by the hour,” UNRWA said in a statement yesterday, raising its emergency funding appeal to $115 million (€85 million) from $60 million.

Israel began air strikes on the coastal strip on July 8th, saying it wanted to halt missile fire out of Gaza by Hamas militants, and launched a ground offensive last Thursday.

“The ongoing ground incursion, begun July 18th, has greatly accelerated the casualty rate over the past two days, as well as the numbers of displaced families,” the World Health Organisation said in a statement.

Twenty-nine Israelis, 27 of them soldiers, have died. But the overwhelming majority of people killed so far in the conflict are Palestinians, including 121 Gazan children, said Juliette Touma of the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef). More than 900 Palestinian children are also reported to have been injured, according to Unicef.

‘Trauma’

“According to an assessment by aid workers on the ground at least 107,000 children need psycho-social support for the trauma they are experiencing such as death, injury or loss of their homes,” Mr Laerke said.

More than 1.2 million of the 1.8 million people in the enclave have no water or only limited access to water as power networks have been damaged or lack fuel for generators, he said. “In addition, we do have reports of sewage flooding which is a threat to public health,” Mr Laerke said.

The UN’s World Food Programme has distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 90,000 people so far, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said. “Ready-to-eat food stocks are running low in Gaza given the conflict has lasted two weeks and the needs are increasing.”

Food will be bought locally and also airlifted from Dubai.

The WHO said 18 health facilities in Gaza have been damaged, including three hospitals.

An Israeli tank shell hit the Al- Aqsa hospital in the central Gaza Strip on Monday, killing four people and wounding 16, the health ministry said. – (Reuters)