Aid agencies in Gaza resume deliveries

January 12, 2009 6:08:46 PM PST
Aid agencies said Monday they have resumed relief operations in Gaza, but fighting still prevents them from evacuating the sickest people and reaching all those who need help. The international Red Cross said it brought in seven truckloads of medical supplies and would distribute them to hospitals overwhelmed by the influx of patients.

Shifa Hospital, the main medical facility in Gaza City, is running low on fuel for generators, said Dorothea Krimitsas, spokeswoman for the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"That puts the treatment of 470 patients at risk, including 60 patients in the intensive care unit," said Krimitsas. "The capacity of this intensive care unit in normal times is 16."

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, brought food and other aid to about 10,000 people on Sunday, said spokesman Johan Eriksson. The situation for civilians is "extremely dire," he said.

The agency has received isolated reports of people burning furniture to cook in makeshift ovens, Eriksson said, adding that 1 million people in Gaza are still without electricity.

The U.N. announced Friday that it would resume staff movement and aid deliveries in Gaza after receiving assurances from the Israeli Ministry of Defense that aid workers would be better protected. It had suspended some of its work Thursday after gunfire from an Israeli tank killed one aid truck driver and injured two others.

A convoy of 53 trucks was able to ship food, medicine, blankets, mattresses and tents from Israel to Gaza City on Sunday, Eriksson said. It took an entire day to pass checkpoints and unload the goods at the Kerem Shalom border crossing and then load them onto Palestinian trucks, he added.

As many 88 percent of Gaza's residents now require food aid, said Helene Gayle, president of the relief organization CARE USA. The three-hour lull in fighting that Israel allows for humanitarian aid to move around Gaza is not sufficient, she said.

"Food distribution takes a minimum of five hours under normal circumstances, so three hours with no guarantee of safety is woefully inadequate for us to do our job," she said in a conference call with reporters.

The Palestinian health ministry has raised the death toll, to 883, since Israel launched its attacks Dec. 27, the World Heath Organization said.

Some 13 Israelis, including 10 soldiers, have died.

More than 4,000 Palestinians have been injured, including at least 1,419 children and 596 women, the World Health Organization said, reporting the ministry's figures.

The World Food Program handed out 1,200 monthly food rations to people in Gaza and 1,400 emergency bread packages Sunday, said spokeswoman Emilia Casella.

But the agency has been unable to reach many people who need food, she said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations urged oil-rich Gulf nations to donate money as it held a donor coordination meeting in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi.

U.N. agencies need an estimated $100 million for emergency aid in Gaza, particularly for food, fuel and medicine, said Abdul Haq Amiri, the head of the U.N.'s regional Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Dubai.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the only two Gulf countries that have donated money to U.N. agencies operating in Gaza, said Abdul Aziz Arrukban, the U.N.'s Special Humanitarian Envoy to the Middle East.

Though the Gulf nations have been generous supporters of humanitarian causes and the plight of the Palestinians, they remain skeptical of the United Nations, he said.

"I'm appealing to them in the name of the U.N. system and hope to get more soon," Arrukban told the AP by phone from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.