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"Nowhere is safe" for trapped Gaza civilians-UNRWA
January 13, 2009 / 5:07 PM / 9 years ago

"Nowhere is safe" for trapped Gaza civilians-UNRWA

(Adds statement by ICRC)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - A senior U.N. aid official appealed on Tuesday for the international community to provide protection for civilians in Gaza, calling it a "test of our humanity".

John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, also called for a full investigation into allegations that Israeli military forces may have used illegal weapons in their 18-day offensive.

He spoke from Gaza by audiolink to reporters in Geneva, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed to the region for a week of talks with leaders aimed at ending the bloodshed.

"Whatever is being done is not sufficient until the guns fall silent. That has to be our measure. And the international community cannot stand as bystanders and watch two parties that have now expressed their intent not to stop," Ging said.

Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the civilian population has a legal right to effective action on the part of the international community to ensure its protection, he said.

"It is a test of our humanity ...," he added.

There was a "pervasive sense of fear" among Palestinians throughout the Gaza Strip, according to Ging, who spoke from an UNRWA distribution centre after visiting shelters and clinics.

"All the people, the first thing they say to me and the last thing they say to me is ‘Please, we need protection, nowhere is safe’," he said. "And they’re right, nowhere is safe. The casualty figures speak for that."

Palestinian medical officials said at least 925 people had been killed in Gaza since Israel begin its assault on Dec. 27 in response to cross-border rockets fired by Hamas militants.



HALF OF INJURED WOMEN AND CHILDREN

"The influx of wounded keeps growing. Almost one half of the injuries are women and children," ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas told reporters in Geneva.

Ging also called for a halt to rockets fired into Israel from Gaza. "The Israeli civilian population within rocket range are being terrorised on a daily basis and have been for years."

About 100 aid trucks per day now enter Gaza, carrying "just a trickle of assistance", far short of the 500 needed daily to meet huge needs, including wheat for bread, he said.

Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, arrived in Gaza on Tuesday and visited an ICRC medical team working in Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

He was expected to hold talks with senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday after a planned visit to Sderot, an Israeli town of 24,000 targeted daily by Hamas rockets.

The ICRC said many wounded in Gaza had been "abandoned and left to suffer alone", unable to reach hospitals and inaccessible to Red Crescent ambulances and medical workers.

In a statement, the neutral humanitarian agency urged all parties, in particular Israel, to "remove restrictions on medical teams so they can do their life-saving work". (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Tim Pearce)

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